AMSTERDAM, Holland (March 3, 2003) - John O'Brien remains philosophical. Only 25 years old, he's already accumulated a wealth of experience on dealing with the physical and mental challenges of injuries in professional soccer. So when he was felled by tendinitis in his Achilles tendon on Sept. 21 of last year and told the only treatment available was a lenghty bout of rest and rehab, he immediately set about getting his mind, and focus, in the right place.
"You have no choice," said O'Brien. "Eventually that's how you find your way out, by focusing on your injury and finding ways to make it better. With this injury it was a little hard, because it was difficult to get rid of both mentally and physically. The doctors told me surgery wouldn't help, so it was just a matter of finding the right mix. The challenges of recovery just make it that much more thrilling to get back on the field."
O'Brien returned to full training February 16, just shy of the five-month anniversary of the injury, and already Ajax manager Ronald Koeman was clammering to get him back in the lineup.
"Coach told me he wanted me to play as soon as I was ready. He wanted to know if he could use me against Arsenal in the Champions League match last Wednesday, but it was up to me. I chose to play a couple games with the second team last week, which helped me get my confidence back. I knew I was ready to go."
And so, after missing 21 matches for the Amsterdam outfit, O'Brien resumed his role at the left back spot against Vitesse on March 2. To the delight of the Ajax supporters and the welcome embrace of his teammates, he rewarded their patience by setting up the insurance goal in the 2-0 victory, making a swift run down the left flank and slotting a well-placed cross to Steve Pinnear to keep his side in the hunt for the Dutch league championship. Of his return, like the injury, he remains peacefully philosophical.
"It was fun, and definitely fulfilling. I stepped on the field with no worries about the body, and just went out and played. The leg held up well. It's the rest of me that's tired."
Ajax face a grueling schedule in March, with the Champions League, Dutch Cup, and league matches combining to place six matches on the fixture list in 20 days. While O'Brien looks forward to using the games to build match fitness, another small pot of gold awaits at the end of the rainbow. Slated on an international fixture date, the United States takes on Japan on March 29 in Seattle, and O'Brien would like nothing more than to cap off his recovery with a chance to sport the Red, White and Blue.
"I've already talked to Bruce about it. We have a break in the schedule, so I'd love to get a chance to come in and play."
For now, O'Brien is willing to take it one day at a time.