Reality hit the New England Revolution hard in early April.
In the span of eight surreal days, the club was rocked by both a cancer diagnosis to one of its most promising young players and a terrorist bombing which directly impacted multiple players and staff members. It was, in all likelihood, the most trying period in the Revolution’s 18-year history.
On April 8 came the shocking announcement that Kevin Alston, just 24 years old at the time, had been diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia and would require an indefinite leave of absence from the team to undergo treatment. As uncertainty clouded Alston’s future, his teammates pushed forward with him in their thoughts.
But just as the club began to regroup, tragedy struck on April 15 when two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing three and wounding hundreds more. Among the injured were the girlfriend of defender Chris Tierney and the father-in-law of goalkeeper Matt Reis.
Soccer, rightfully so, took a backseat to life.
But then, just when it was needed most, soccer reemerged to serve a vital role in the healing process. Players, staff members and supporters from around the country – and, really, the world – joined as one family to prove that the strength of many will always overcome the cowardice of few.
Because from tragedy comes triumph.
And this is a story of triumph.
Five days after the Boston Marathon bombings, the Revs visited the New York Red Bulls in one of New England’s first major sporting events following the tragedy. The scoreline was forgettable, but the events surrounding that evening will go down as some of the most memorable in Revolution history.
The players took the field with The Standells’ “Dirty Water” – practically a Boston sports institution – playing over the RBA sound system, a classy move by the Red Bulls organization. While the Revolution’s traveling supporters held up a “Boston Strong” sign and waved Boston city flags, they were matched by New York’s supporters with a massive banner reading “New York Stands with Boston.”
But nothing was quite as special as the pregame march, when rival supporters from the Revs and Red Bulls came together to walk down Riverbend Drive and into Red Bull Arena, chanting and singing in unison.
And who was there to watch it all but Kevin Alston.
The following weekend the Revs played at home for the first time since both the bombings and Alston’s leukemia diagnosis, and it was another special night. Not only did the Revs ride goals from Diego Fagundez and Lee Nguyen to a 2-0 win over the Philadelphia Union, but tributes were out in full force.
Among them, Revolution head coach Jay Heaps wore a Boston Athletic Association jacket during the match, while both teams’ captains (local product Tierney for the Revs) wore similar jackets during the pregame march. Revolution players wore orange ribbon patches on their jerseys, which were later auctioned off to benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.
And an incredibly touching marathon tribute video was played in-stadium before the game.
By the end of the night, the Revs had a victory “for Boston and Kevin.”
Slowly but surely, the focus returned to soccer, both for the Revs and for Alston.
By mid-May, Alston was back on the training field, not only working his way back to full fitness, but also keeping the atmosphere light with a bit of fun. By mid-July, he was back on the bench for the Revolution, making the 18-man squad for a pair of road games in Colorado and Columbus.
Then, on July 27, Alston made his emotional return in front of friends and family at RFK Stadium. It was only a brief cameo appearance in which he helped the Revs close out a critical 2-1 win over D.C. United, but it meant far more than that to the young defender whose future had been so uncertain just four months earlier.
Alston eventually made two starts and two more substitute appearances after returning, including a start at left back in the playoff-clinching 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew to close the regular season.
By then, it was no longer a story to see Alston back on the field; he was just another player on the Revolution’s roster trying to help in any way he could. And that’s all he ever wanted.
Alston’s wasn’t the only remarkable comeback following the events of early April.
John Odom, the father-in-law of goalkeeper Matt Reis, was critically injured in the marathon bombings, and Revolution fans followed his recovery throughout the course of the year. All told, Odom spent almost five months rehabbing in Boston before he was able to step off a plane back home in California.
Before Odom went home, Reis used his annual charity golf challenge to raise money for the John Odom Recovery Fund. In the video below, Odom walks to the tee and hits the ceremonial first shot to kick off the tournament’s events; something he wasn’t sure would ever be possible.
Odom also emotionally thanks Reis for not only raising more than $125,000 for his recovery fund, but for literally saving his life by using his belt as a tourniquet immediately following the blast.
Reis made his own return, as well, regaining his starting spot in mid-August and going 7-0-4 on the season to become the first goalkeeper in MLS history to go unbeaten while playing 10 or more games. That’s not a bad feather to have in your cap regardless of the circumstances, but considering everything he went through in 2013, Reis’ achievements – both on and off the field – were nothing short of legendary.
In retrospect, perhaps the most remarkable thing about April is how long ago it seems. So much has happened in the past seven months. Kevin Alston’s back playing soccer. John Odom is home in California and walking on his own. And Matt Reis – although injured in the season’s final game – made an epic return to the field.
That said, this isn’t a happy story; there was too much tragedy and sadness to classify it in that way.
But it is a story of triumph.