"We really care about the people in this club."
It was a simple but important reminder from Head Coach Caleb Porter, who touched on the different ways in which players, staff, and supporters have remained committed to each other during the last few months in particular.
It goes without question the veracity of Porter's beliefs, which are backed by a number of recent examples.
First, in the wake of his season-ending injury in 2019, defender Milton Valenzuela's 2020 redemption season took a slight detour after suffering a torn meniscus in Week 2 at Seattle Sounders FC on March 7.
In the first half, the defender recalled how he felt a strange sensation in one of his knees after accelerating towards a 50-50 ball early on, as he was later subbed out at halftime.
Following an official examination, the 21-year-old Argentine was told he would miss the next two weeks due to the cartilage tear. From there, it was only days later in which he learned he would be forced to rehab from home due to Ohio's stay-at-home mandate.
"[My training] was different because I couldn’t go to the medical center to do rehab, so I had to do everything at home," Valenzuela explained.
Thanks to a collaborative effort and creative use of technology, he was able to rehabilitate properly despite physical distancing guidelines through video conference calls with physical therapists.
The abnormality of the circumstances aside, the break in the season played in his favor from a healing standpoint, as Valenzuela explained how he was able to "train, strengthen myself, make the most of my time at home to heal properly and also try to train two or three times a day. ... I think I focused on that a lot to make the most of my time at home."
That said, the at-home rehabilitation did not come without its own set of challenges, as it was an all-in effort from the high-performance and support staff, Porter explained.
"The medical staff - Clive [Brewer], his staff; Chris [Shenberger], his staff - did an awesome job working with the players and making sure the ones that were injured ... were fully fit," said Porter. "We believe that the more you take care of the person, the more you get better performances, and it’s important to never lose sight of that. It’s really important, and so that was put to the test over these eight, nine weeks."
Of course, the player’s training regimens ensure their physical fitness, but those regimens are also tremendous stress generators, which have mental side-effects (more on that topic can be found through these OhioHealth resources).
Notably, the mental recovery has been a particular area of focus for the support staff at the Club. For Valenzuela, the last handful of weeks had been particularly tough.
"The first few weeks maybe you feel okay, but little by little you start to miss the routine. You want to train, see your teammates and friends. I think it’s a process that slowly takes its toll on you," he explained.
As always, Porter and the staff were simply a text or call away.
"We did what we always did, and that is stay in touch with the guys; check in on them; make sure they are doing OK; make sure their wives and families and doing well; if they need something, being there for them," Porter said. "So, I think we did what we always did, we just had to do it in a creative way from afar through different technology."
It hasn't just been the support and technical staff staying in touch with the players during this difficult time though. FaceTime, Zoom, and texts aside, the Nordecke took to the path of using banners and tifos to show their support for players at training last week.
Valenzuela spoke on behalf of his teammates and emphasized that that kind of support is a source of motivation right now as the Crew look to enter the next phase of training.
"It was a beautiful, beautiful gesture. The truth is I liked it a lot. I think all of my teammates liked it a lot," Valenzuela said.
Now, as the Crew hopes to enter the next phase of training in the near future, it's those kinds of displays that truly hit home and provide an extra push, Valenzuela said.
"Honestly, it was a great idea because it motivates us and it makes us think about returning to play and give our all for the support that they give us every match. Thank you to all the Columbus Crew fans for the gesture."