For the first half of the 2011 season, Rich Balchan's name was being thrown around in the conversation for MLS Rookie of the Year. But then the Indiana University product suffered multiple injuries during his first professional season to diminish his hopes of being the top newcomer last year.
Three surgeries to repair a sports hernia and a lot of frustation later, Balchan is finally back in training and competing for selection in Robert Warzycha's squad for the first time in 2012.
"It feels amazing. I was out for such a long time," Balchan said after Wednesday's training session. "I was first injured on July 1 of last season. It's nice to have that structure back, getting back with the guys. I'm just a lot happier. The locker room is always positive, so it's fun being around again."
"[Balchan] is coming to work every day and I think we can see the progress," Warzycha said of the second-year defender. "He's getting fitter and he's getting more playing time [in training]. It's good to see."
The Crew skipper continued, "I'm happy to have him back. He's making slow progress. We'll see, maybe he will be on the field this year."
Balchan's first meaningful action of 2012 could come Sunday in a Reserve League match against the Philadelphia Union.
"I can't wait," Balchan said looking ahead to the weekend. "Today is the most I've played in a year or so, a full two 20-minute halves. It will be nice to try to play the full 90 [minutes on Sunday]. If I can do that, it will be awesome."
Balchan started 19 matches last season and scored one goal. The defender's lone tally came as an 89th minute equalizer against the New York Red Bulls.