FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When the 2010 calendar flipped to January 2011 and that 12-month stretch officially became part of the past, there was perhaps no one in the New England Revolution organization more relieved than goalkeeper Matt Reis.
It was a trying year for Reis, who underwent three separate surgeries between December 2009 and October 2010 to repair injuries to his left shoulder, left knee and right ankle. As a result, the 35-year-old goalkeeper spent much of his time in the treatment room and was limited to 14 appearances, compiling a record of 4-7-3 and a 1.79 goals against average.
Not only did Reis miss significant time during the regular season, but the procedures on his shoulder and knee kept him off the field for the entirety of the 2010 preseason, as well, stalling his development and putting him at a competitive disadvantage when he made his return to the field in late June.
“Last year was a tough year,” Reis said after Tuesday morning’s training session at the Dana-Farber Field House. “Whenever you’re not around the guys and whenever you’re missing time, you feel like you’re behind the eight ball and you’re a little bit farther back in the race.
“For me, my major goal for 2011 is to be healthy,” he added. “That’s going to be the overriding factor in everything that I do. I want to be out here every day like I have been in the past, contributing the way I’ve done in the past.”
Reis is well on his way to achieving that goal if his current physical condition is any indication. Ankle surgery ended Reis’ 2010 season in early October, but he spent the offseason steadfastly rehabbing and was able to join his teammates for the start of the 2011 preseason with a clean bill of health.
While Reis does still experience soreness in his surgically repaired ankle – “I’m happy with where it is,” he said. “Where the doctors said they wanted me to be is where I am today.” – he’s arrived at preseason camp feeling better than he has for years.
“All three [injuries] were things that had been bothering me at the same time,” Reis said. “I got my shoulder done and [that] was obviously the biggest of the three. To go through three surgeries – that’s something I’d never been a part of and it’s something that I’d never had to deal with before.”
With at least 24 appearances for six consecutive seasons from 2004-09, Reis developed a reputation as one of Major League Soccer’s iron men. In 2008 he established what was then a league-record for consecutive minutes played in the regular season, seeing 7,975 consecutive minutes of action from Sept. 3, 2005 to Aug. 16, 2008.
The workload began to catch up with Reis in 2009, when he missed six games and played much of the season with nagging injuries. With his physical condition constantly on his mind, it was decided following the 2009 campaign that surgery was necessary for a return to full strength.
“There’s a lot that goes on (mentally), especially playing a sport professionally,” Reis said. “There are little things in the back of your mind.
“You don’t want to be thinking about anything when you’re out [on the field], and when you’re coming back from injuries, it’s always in the back of your mind,” he admitted. “You’re thinking, ‘Does it feel right? Does it not feel right?’ So getting to a point where I’m not thinking about anything and I can just come out every day, train, get back into a good rhythm and feel good in the goal is something I’m really looking forward to doing.”
Head coach Steve Nicol is also looking forward to having his number one shot-stopper available for a full season, especially now that Reis’ injury woes are a thing of the past. Nicol believes a healthy Reis – along with a revamped backline – will cure the defensive problems the Revs encountered last season.
“You look at the goals against last year and certainly you can put a lot of that down to all the changes, whether it be in goal or whether it be in defense,” he said. “So the fact that [Reis] is 100 percent is great. It just means that you know that part of the team is going to be there the whole season. If he’s at his best – which I’m sure he will be – then I can tell you we’re not going to let in as many goals (as last season).”
Getting to this stage of health has been a demanding process for Reis, an unsurprising revelation considering the physical toll one major surgery takes on the body, let alone three in the span of less than one year. But despite the physical demands, it’s been the mental strain of back-to-back-to-back rehabilitation stints which has been the most difficult obstacle.
“That’s the harder part of it,” said Reis of the psychological barriers. “Physically, you can see gradual increases in whatever you’re doing and getting back to a point where you feel good.
“But mentally you’re always questioning,” he admitted. “You’re always wondering, ‘Is this ever going to get better? Will I ever feel good again? Will I ever get out of bed and not hurt?’ That’s what we’re trying to do and that’s where I feel like I’m aiming toward.”
Despite the physical and mental strain Reis has experienced in the last year, there is a light at the end of the tunnel as the veteran goalkeeper kicks off the 2011 preseason ready to play.
So with his current health in mind, was the process of three surgeries in such a short time frame worth it?
“We’ll see,” Reis said with cautious optimism. “You can never say, but it’s something that I felt like I needed to do to keep playing and progressing with my career. If going through that one year allows me five more years, then I think it’s worth it.”