FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Sometimes a player returning from long-term injury can be just as beneficial as a midseason acquisition. That’s exactly how New England Revolution head coach Jay Heaps feels about the impending return of speedy outside midfielder Sainey Nyassi, who has been sidelined since early February with a severely strained right hamstring.
“He’s exactly what we need right now,” Heaps said of Nyassi, who saw his first game action in four months with a 34-minute stint in last weekend’s reserve match against the Columbus Crew. “(He brings) a little bit of pace wide. We need a little bit more of that speed to stretch the field; not just length-wise, but we also need width-wise.”
Nyassi scored the Revolution’s first goal of the 2012 preseason – burying a header in a 2-1 win over FC Tucson – but he pulled up lame early in the second preseason match against Boston College on February 10. The young Gambian was officially placed on the disabled list on March 7 with an expected return date in mid-May.
It took a bit longer than anticipated, but Nyassi finally made his long-awaited return to the field this past Sunday morning at Crew Stadium. The 23-year-old started in midfield and played a little more than a half-hour before being replaced by Fernando Cardenas.
“It feels good to at least get out there and run for 35 minutes,” said Nyassi. “It’s been a frustrating year for me. It’s really been tough being in the treatment room, but I’m coming along, catching up, so hopefully I’ll be fine.
“[The hamstring] was fine, because I was already warm and playing,” he continued. “But after when they pulled me out and we had the flight back home, when I got [back to Foxborough] it was a bit sore. This is why I haven’t gone full practice yet.”
It’s been a long road back for Nyassi, who missed the entire second half of the 2011 season with both a right MCL sprain and a right hamstring strain. Nyassi hasn’t appeared in a regular-season game since a 3-2 loss to Chivas USA on Aug. 6 of last season, and he admits the layoff has been just as much about mental strength as physical recovery.
“One word I would use to describe [the past four months] is depressing,” said Nyassi. “But it happens. It happens to almost every soccer player, so you’ve got to deal with it, be mentally strong and focused, and do what the doctors tell you.
“Muscles are tricky,” he continued. “If it was, let’s say an ankle, by this time I might be back. But with hamstrings sometimes you think it’s gone, you come out and start running and you start feeling it again. It’s been a frustrating year for me, but I’ll come back soon hopefully.”
After his successful half-hour stint in Columbus, the plan appears to be for Nyassi to get another run out with the reserves – potentially a full 45 minutes – in a rematch with the Crew on Sunday morning at Gillette Stadium. Although Nyassi is still holding out hope he might be ready for Saturday’s first-team game against the Crew, the Revs are maintaining a cautious approach after such a significant layoff.
“It’s important that we get him back for this stretch, but we don’t want too much too early,” said Heaps. “Just because we’re excited, (we can’t rush him back). We have to make sure his body is still continuing to progress.”