Becoming Iron Man

The following story was published in the Revolution’s “Match Day” program for the June 2 game against the Chicago Fire

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There would have been few willing to bet on Kevin Alston becoming the New England Revolution’s newest “iron man” last year, setting a single-season club record for minutes played with 2,954 minutes logged in 33 league appearances.

It was a far cry from Alston’s first two years as a professional in which the speedy right back struggled with recurring hamstring injuries in both legs, forcing him to miss time on seven separate occasions. In total, Alston sat out 15 games in both league and cup play between 2009 and 2010 because of hamstring issues.

Alston’s ailments not only affected his club career, but his international aspirations, as well. Called into his first-ever full U.S. National Team camp in January 2010, he suffered a hamstring injury in the early stages and was unable to participate fully in the camp. Given another shot with a second call-up to the U.S. National Team in February of that year, Alston reinjured his hamstring the day before camp started and missed out once again.

“I think it took a toll on me mentally,” Alston said of missing back-to-back national team camps because of injury. “It was one of those things where you look forward to it and you’re so excited to finally get a call-up. You want to go out there and show them what you can do, so to have those injuries pop up like that and keep me back from doing that, it hurts.”

After missing the final four games of the 2010 season with yet another hamstring injury, Alston finally decided it was time to attack the issue head on. Although the Revolution’s season ended in October, Alston stayed in Foxborough through late December to participate in rehab workouts three-to-four times a week with head athletic trainer Sean Kupiec. The Silver Spring, Md., native then spent time in January working with a specialist in Delaware to continue to strengthen the muscles as best he could.

The efforts paid off. Alston missed the first game of the 2011 season with a mild hamstring strain, but went on to start the Revolution’s next 33 regular-season matches en route to setting a new club record for minutes played in a season.

“Those first couple years were tough with the injuries,” Alston admits. “It means a lot just to be able to stay healthy and continue to go out there and play. I feel like when I’m not healthy, I’m kind of letting my team down, so definitely pride goes along with [maintaining my health].”

Alston is so determined to stay on the field, in fact, that he’s battled through a trio of injuries in the past two seasons. Twice Alston has broken his nose and been forced to wear a protective facemask, while he played the final two months of the 2011 season in a heavily-wrapped cast after fracturing his wrist in August.

“You have to do what you have to do,” Alston said of playing through minor injuries. “Fortunately, those were some of those injuries that you can kind of play around. It’s unfortunate. It [stinks] having to wear the mask or playing with a cast, but I’ve got to be out there.”

As eager as he is to be on the field as often as possible, Alston is aware that there are some injuries he can’t play through. Hamstring strains fall firmly into that category.

So Alston continues to maintain his hamstrings with extra care on a daily basis, aided in large part by the presence of strength and conditioning coach Nick Downing. Together, they’ve devised a plan designed to strengthen Alston’s muscles and prevent injuries from occurring in the first place.

“We go into the gym two times a week,” said Alston, who also worked with a personal trainer in Florida this past offseason. “It’s good maintenance. It’s not like we’re necessarily trying to get stronger and stronger. We are getting stronger, but it’s also just keeping the muscles on the same levels as far as letting them not deteriorate.

“I feel like I’m past the injury thing, but injuries can pop up at any time, so you need to be smart,” Alston added. “You need to do the right things off the field just to make sure you stay healthy. Although I’m past the initial hamstring injury, you never know when that could come back. Another one could pop up; you never know. So you just have to do the right things all the time.”

Alston hopes his continued presence on the field in MLS will eventually lead to another shot with the U.S. National Team. If and when that opportunity presents itself, he doesn’t plan to let his hamstrings get in the way of his dreams.

“It’d mean a lot just to get a shot,” Alston said. “Just to go out there and play with those guys and showcase my talents against theirs. Just to be on the same field and show them what I can do, it would mean a lot.”