FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Preston Burpo’s 2010 season came to an end the moment he suffered a broken right fibula and tibia in the 34th minute of last weekend’s 3-2 win over the New York Red Bulls. After undergoing successful reduction surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital on Sunday afternoon, the 37-year-old goalkeeper now faces several months of rehabilitation and a long road to recovery.
But while Burpo won’t be able to take the field alongside his Revolution teammates, his presence will be felt throughout the season as the Revs rally together for a common purpose: Do it for Preston.
People are often brought closer together in the face of adverse conditions, and professional athletes are no exception. Many of Burpo’s teammates who witnessed his horrific injury up close struggled to deal with the emotional stress in the immediate aftermath, with 21-year-old Sainey Nyassi – the Revolution’s youngest player – particularly distraught. Realizing that action was needed to calm everyone down and refocus, head coach Steve Nicol and captain Shalrie Joseph called the team into a huddle before play was restarted.
Beyond the team gathering, both Nicol and Joseph gave individual attention to Nyassi, who was eventually replaced in the second half after it was clear he had difficulty overcoming the incident.
“It was really important having Shalrie, Stevie and the rest of them trying to console me so I could forget about it and keep playing, because we were really looking for a win,” said Nyassi. “I really tried, but I couldn’t help it. I really, really tried to forget about it, but it was a tragic incident. That’s never happened in front of me, and when I looked at him once, I couldn’t look at him again. I walked away and I couldn’t handle it.
“But it was really important for Stevie and Shalrie to come talk to me,” he continued. “They were saying, ‘Forget about it, just forget about it.’ I tried, but it didn’t happen.”
Although Nyassi struggled to cope with the situation, the actions of Nicol and Joseph were a sign of unity as the Revs came together in support of each other and Burpo. After fighting through a difficult 10 minutes to reach halftime with a 2-1 lead intact, Nicol reiterated the message he had conveyed in the team huddle: Do it for Preston.
The Revolution did just that. Although the Red Bulls leveled the score at 2-2 just a few minutes into the second half, the Revs regrouped and pushed forward in search of a game-winner. They found it in the 80th minute, when Zack Schilawskisnapped home a header from Joseph’s left-wing cross.
“I think there’s two ways to approach the situation: either to sob about it, or go out there and win one for [Preston],” said stand-in defender Pat Phelan. “Unfortunately Preston got hurt making a great play for us, something he’s been doing for us all season. So it was really important for us to come out and get the three points for him.”
It was the thought of Burpo sacrificing his body for the good of the team which spurred his teammates on to victory.
“As horrible as [Preston’s injury] was to see, it definitely brought us together,” said Chris Tierney. “We had motivation to go on in the second half and get a result for him. As horrible as it was, it could definitely be a turning point in our season.”
The belief is that Saturday night’s unifying victory over the Red Bulls is just the start of an inspired run through the rest of the season. Much in the way the Revolution rallied around Burpo to grind out a result against New York, the players are confident they can find strength and togetherness in an effort to win for themselves and their injured teammate going forward.
“I think that will really stay with us, because as soon as we got into the locker room (at halftime on Saturday night) we started talking about ‘Let’s win this for him, let’s win this for him,’” said Nyassi. “So I think we’re still going to keep playing for him. We’ve just got to have that mentality and stay positive. Play as a team and win for Preston.”
Tierney agreed that the desire to battle in honor of Burpo was not a one-off shot reserved only for the night the goalkeeper was injured. Particularly in light of Burpo’s character – he’s widely regarded as one of the most humble, generous players in the league – the Revs will have special motivation for the rest of the season.
“Absolutely,” answered Tierney when asked if Burpo’s injury could serve to bring the team together. “At least for me – I can speak personally. It’s definitely a good way to get people going. So we’re going to continue on for Preston, try to carry ourselves the way that he does and try to get results.”