FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – No club and no set of individuals should have to deal with the events that have impacted the New England Revolution over the past couple of weeks.
It isn't about soccer. Not in the least. Not when Kevin Alston receives a leukemia diagnosis. Not when Matt Reis rushes to the scene of an attack at the Boston Marathon and watches his father-in-law undergo three surgeries in two days to tend to his wounds. Not when Chris Tierney waits for his girlfriend to recover from the undisclosed injuries she suffered in the explosions on Monday.
“You're not prepared,” Revolution general manager Michael Burns told MLSsoccer.com. “You can't prepare for things like this. You can't prepare for one of your players to get diagnosed with leukemia. You can't prepare for a tragedy to occur at the Boston Marathon that will affect some of your players. You deal with it as best you can.”
There are no designated plans to employ when tragedy strikes. There isn't a manual to pull down off the shelf to outline a series of steps to process the significant emotional toll incurred in this situation. There isn't one prescribed way for a gifted group of athletes to reconcile the feelings created when one of their own is sidelined by illness or people they know dearly are swept up in remarkable tragedy.
“It's been heavy,” Reis said. “It's been emotionally heavy for all of us. It's hard when you're healthy, you're young, you're a professional athlete and things are going your way to think and realize that it's a gift every day. Things can change so quickly. We're so blessed to be able to do what we do, to be able to come out here and be with each other, be in the locker room with each other and be able to support each other.”
As the coaches, the players and the staffers grapple with their emotions, they turn to each other for support. They huddle in the locker room to discuss the situation. They share calls, messages and texts when they aren't at the stadium to convey their continued support. They try to take things day-by-day with the knowledge that their work must continue.
“You step on the field and it is a release,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said. “You get out here and you do what you love to do. Sometimes, you don't do it all that well under the circumstances because there's a lot of pressure.”
The approach has worked so far. They traveled to Seattle on Saturday and picked up a point. They will trek down to New York with hopes of snatching a similar or better result at Red Bull Arena on Saturday night (7 pm ET, watch on MLS Live). It is all they can do as they continue to cope with the consequences of the past few weeks and pray that the next few weeks provide much brighter days.
“Going forward, we know what we have to do as a team in the locker room, but also on the field,” Heaps said. “We're playing for a pretty strong nation and for a pretty strong region. For me, being from this area, I'm very honored to be able to represent that type of courage and strength.”