CHESTER, Pa. — After the Philadelphia Union’s 1-1 draw with the Montreal Impact on Saturday night, a young fan named Cameron McCarthy came down to the field at Talen Energy Stadium to kick the ball around with Union goalkeeper John McCarthy (no relation).
John, as he likes to do, told the left-footed Cameron to practice with her right foot. Cameron, smiling and laughing the whole time, told John she’d be playing in her first soccer game in almost two years the very next day.
“I said I’d come out to one of her games,” McCarthy told MLSsoccer.com. “And I saw her face light up when I said that.”
McCarthy couldn’t make it to Cameron’s game Sunday but he heard all about it as his 8-year-old friend scored two goals — a truly momentous achievement for a brave girl who’s recovering from Ewing Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer.
And the Union’s backup goalie has been by her side for much of that battle, forging a special bond with the young girl that began 15 months ago when her family reached out to the Union and McCarthy decided to pay her a visit at duPont Hospital in Delaware.
He even let her shave his head when he got there so that they could have matching haircuts.
“They said a little girl was asking if everyone can get stuff signed and we’ll get it to her,” McCarthy said. “I said, ‘Why don’t I just go down and meet her? What’s her name?’ They said, ‘Cameron McCarthy,’ and I was like, ‘No way, that’s even better! Something to talk about right off the bat.’ And things took off from there.”
The relationship between the two McCarthys has been a fun, well-chronicled and ultimately triumphant one since then. After 17 rounds of chemotherapy treatment to treat the cancer behind her eye, Cameron returned home in April with the Union goalie among those waiting for her. And, in many ways, it culminated this past weekend as Cameron not only got back on the soccer field herself but was among those children honored at a Union game dedicated to raising money and awareness to combat childhood cancer.
“I love to see it when our players reach out and create special bonds and relationships with fans, particularly in this case with children,” said Tim McDermott, the Union’s chief business officer. “John and Cameron have a really unique relationship. That’s fantastic to see and I think that’s part of what makes MLS so special. I’ve worked in a lot of different leagues and the willingness of players at the Union and around MLS to reach out, to put their heart and soul into things, is really unique and really special.”
In conjunction with MLS’s Kick Childhood Cancer campaign throughout September, the Union did several other things at Saturday’s game to support pediatric cancer awareness, including selling scarves and ribbons with proceeds benefitting the American Association for Cancer Research and hosting Alex’s Lemonade Stand outside the stadium. McDermott called the league-wide initiative “fantastic” and believes it will continue to grow “in a really significant way.” And McCarthy said “it’s really nice to have this recognition” because “no one ever wants to see anyone go through this, especially a kid that’s so young and doesn’t even know what life really is.”
Of course, in the last 15 months, McCarthy has learned a lot about life from an 8-year-old girl that he sees about every two months, often going to her house to eat pizza and play video games. The Union goalie admitted there were “some bad moments” in her recovery but almost every time he saw her she was cheery, sometimes even bouncing off the walls, like nothing was wrong.
“That’s what I think of Cameron — I always think of her smiling,” he said. “The first time I met her she kinda just stood there, staring at me, smiling. And that’s what I think of her. For her to go through tough times smiling and so upbeat, there shouldn’t be any reason why I should be too upset about anything.”