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Through the Maize: The Rebirth of Brian Maisonneuve

CHICAGO (Tuesday, August 28, 2001) - Done. Finished. Never Again.

Brian Maisonneuve heard these words over and over again. Maisonneuve, the 28-year-old co-captain for the Columbus Crew and a starter for the U.S. Men's National Team during the 1998 World Cup in France, had five operations to repair his right ankle after the 1999 MLS season and was told he would probably never play soccer again.

Doctors told him his ankle was too weak, too badly injured to allow him to continue playing the game he grew up with, the game he loved. Doctors told him a total recovery was unrealistic, if even possible. Doctors told him his goal should be to make sure he could walk without a limp.

Maisonneuve must not have been listening. Two years later he has returned to the MLS limp-free, starting every one of the Crew's 22 games in 2001 - the only player to even appear in all 22 - and putting up career highs in both goals (6) and points (16). His amazing year has placed him as a frontrunner for the ACE Comeback Player of the Year Award.

"There is absolutely no question in my mind that he deserves it," said Crew head coach Greg Andrulis of the comeback award. "I know there are a couple of other strong candidates, but with what Maize has been through and how far he has come, no one is more deserving than he is."

Returning to the MLS was one of his goals, but on August 22, Maisonneuve made the comeback complete when he was called up to the U.S. National Team by head coach Bruce Arena. Maisonneuve has 10 caps with the national team, but none since he started the World Cup match against Yugoslavia on June 25, 1998.

For Maisonneuve, nicknamed Maize, his journey back to the highest level of competition was a long, scary and uncertain ride.

Maisonneuve's ordeal unsuspectingly began with what he believed was just nagging ankle sprains and weakness. He continued to play through the pain during the 1998 and 1999 seasons, but at the end of 1999, doctors determined that the ankle was worse than he had thought and would need to be surgically repaired. From that point things only got worse.

After the initial surgery in January of 2000, Maisonneuve contracted a series of major infections, which required four more surgeries over a seven-month period.

"We had to completely reconstruct the outside of his right ankle," said Crew team doctor Peter Edwards, M.D., of Riverside Sports Medicine. "The injury and infections destroyed all of the ankle's tendons beyond repair, so we had to rebuild it using tendons from a cadaver.

"We told Brian, quite honestly, that his chances of playing again were slim-to-none. Our goal was to get him back to where he could walk normally without a limp."

The surgeries caused Maisonneuve to miss the entire 2000 MLS season. He wasn't playing, but that didn't mean he was sitting around at home feeling sorry himself. Maize was on crutches for four months, and then embarked on a stringent rehabilitation regime from August 2000 to February 2001.

"When you have doctors telling you that you may not ever play again, it is a very scary situation," said Maisonneuve. "The whole process is frightening. Any time you grow up playing a game that you love and that's taken away from you, it's difficult."

It may have been difficult for Maisonneuve to watch from the sidelines and keep up with his rigorous training, but luckily he had help from those around him.

"I just tried to keep working hard and stay positive and I was surrounded by great people," Maisonneuve said. "The doctors and (Crew trainer) Amy (Baer) did a great job throughout the whole process, and my wife (Diana) also helped me tremendously. She was the one who had to listen to me complain the whole time."

What is most amazing about Maize's comeback is that he has returned as good, if not better, than before his injury.

"We were told he would probably never play again, so to have him be one of our most indispensable players and a national team player again is amazing," said Andrulis.

For Maisonneuve, getting called up to the national team prior to the USA's World Cup qualifying showdown with Honduras on Sept. 1 is more than amazing.

"Whenever you get called in to the national team, it's an honor," he said. "I'm very excited. It's been a while since I've been called in. Whatever they want me to do, I'll do. I'm going to go out there and give 150 percent."

Everyone knows athletes can't give more than 100 percent, but after what Maize has been through, when he says he will do just that, you can't help but believe him.

by Neil Buethe, U.S. Soccer Communications