Here we are again, guys. Another MLS Cup Final. And by “guys,” I mean LAFC supporters. I’m writing this to you because you have supported me so thoroughly since the broken leg I suffered in last year’s Final. I have felt your love during the journey that returned me to the game I love. So first I want to thank you.
When I am asked about my injury, most people ask about the moment itself. They ask about the decision I made in the 110th minute against Philadelphia to run out and confront the attacker who was dribbling toward our goal with the Cup-winning goal on his mind. But I want to start with a game that happened 260 days after that moment, when I started in goal for our second team, LAFC2, in my first game of professional football since I got hurt.
It had been a long and winding road to get to that day – I’ll get to that in a minute – but for me it represented a huge step, even if I was playing in front of 100 fans in a college stadium instead of the tens of thousands of fans I’m used to.
We were playing Tacoma, and it was a close game (we ended up winning 2-1). Late in the second half I saw a 50-50 ball coming my way, then I saw a young Tacoma player running onto it. I was surprised that he didn't slow down, but he wanted the goal, just like that Union forward [Cory Burke] did in the 2022 Cup Final. No problem. It's part of the game. Well, he came in hard and kicked me right in the shin— the same place where my double fracture happened—and sent me into an aerial 360. I landed with a thump.
First, and most importantly, I had the ball. (If you know me at all, you know that winning is always my priority on the pitch.) Second, I wasn’t thinking about my leg at all. It didn’t hurt. I remember getting up and thinking, ‘Yep, it’s over. It’s gone. I’m back.’
After a few more games with the second team, I was called into a meeting after training with [head coach] Steve [Cherundolo] and [goalkeeper coach] Oka [Nikolov]. They told me I was going to start our next first-team game—against the Galaxy. It was quite something. I was happy, excited, nervous. Every emotion you can think of, I felt it.
It had been 315 days since my injury. I had rehabbed my leg for thousands of hours during those ten months, but nothing, including my time with LAFC2, could prepare me for playing not just a first-team match, but a derby match against our rivals.
And here is where I’ll take you back to the moment that threw me into the most difficult journey I have ever experienced.
November 5, 2022
Talking about the play itself can be hard. I’ll just say that I play with my heart on the field. I don’t regret anything.
Have I replayed the injury in my mind many times? Yes. In the first days after the injury, I was like ‘Oh my God, why? Why did I break my leg? Why wasn’t it just a bone bruise?’
But ours is a physical game. S* happens. I did my best to move on.
But it was difficult mentally. I was supposed to be on a plane three days after the Philly match, headed to my first World Cup to play for Canada. It was an opportunity I had worked my whole life to reach. I remember talking to [LAFC assistant coach] Marc [dos Santos] and saying, ‘Look, I usually don’t have a lot of tears.’ But tears really came out in Canada’s first game when I realized I wasn’t there.
Once I swallowed that pill, though, I could move forward. At some point, you have to say, ‘What’s next?’ Right?
The first couple of weeks of rehab were terrible. I wouldn’t even call it rehab because I couldn’t actually \do anything. \You go from being 100 percent, at the apex of fitness, and the next moment you’re at zero percent. After two weeks my right leg looked and felt like spaghetti. I couldn’t move around, couldn’t even make a snack or get a glass of water for my daughter.
I want to give a huge thanks and tons of credit to Jason Han, LAFC’s Head of Rehabilitation. I spent more time with him over the last thirteen months than I have with my wife and children. (Yes, Cristina and I added a son in May 2023, an arrival that helped me keep things in perspective for sure.)
Looking back on my youth in Quebec, I remember that the best goalie advice I ever got was: “One ball at a time, one action at a time.” Someone asked me recently what advice I would give to the 15-year-old me and I replied: “Be patient.” That’s how I approached my work with Jason and our staff.
One action at a time. Be patient.
In March of this year, I reached the “four months after surgery” milestone. Every week I felt better. I felt a progression. But it was difficult, too, because on some days I’d feel great, and on others, I’d feel not so great. That was a reality I needed to cope with. Everything used to be so easy. Now – on most days – everything was hard.
But every Monday, I felt a little better than the Monday before. The fracture was completely healed by this point. It was just a matter of finding the muscle strength and elasticity. My body wasn’t used to bearing its usual load.
When May came I started spending a lot more time on our practice field at the Performance Center. It felt good to have the grass under my feet again. Jason and I started working on basic mechanics, pushing off the ground and absorbing it, accelerating and decelerating. It sounds easy, but it was difficult.
It put a smile on my face each time I made an accurate long pass or generated a little bit more power on goal kicks. But there were still movements where I was like, ‘I can't do that yet.’
Be patient, I said.
I should add here that I had constant support from my first-team brothers, especially John McCarthy, who was starting games for us during an extremely difficult congested schedule but still found time to give me positive words, and plenty of jokes.
Being away from the guys and not on the field with the first team can play with your head. It was important for me to recognize that and accept it. Johnny made that process easier.
He and I have been tight since we arrived in preseason together in 2022, or as I like to call it, the “first day of school.” We came to LAFC at the same time so we had a strong connection from the beginning. Johnny is my guy. If he plays well, I'm happy; if I play well, he's happy. We care for one another and have always pushed ourselves to improve.
The eight-month mark arrived in July, which is when I joined our second team, LAFC2. I was just excited to get back on the field with a smile and enjoy playing again. That was the biggest thing I missed – playing. I also got to be a little bit of a mentor to the young guys on our second team. It was great to get to know them.
Another thing I missed about being with the first team was road days, when we got to hang out together all day, playing cards and video games. After Steve and Oka called me in for that meeting in mid-September, I knew I’d be going on road trips again soon.
My parents landed in L.A. the night before the Galaxy game—my first appearance with the first team in ten months. It was a trip they had already planned, so it was kind of an accident, but it worked out perfectly.
Not only are the Galaxy our rivals, but they’re a team that always pushes numbers forward. And we were in a stretch of games where we needed points to position ourselves for the playoffs. What a time to return to the field!
Walking onto the grass at BMO Stadium that night – there were a bunch of emotions rolling through me. I felt butterflies in my stomach, and yes, I saw flashes of the last game I had played there, but the crowd received me so warmly. It was emotional. So thank you again. Thank you for all of your support over the past year. It's been really touching for me and my family, and important to my recovery from injury.
Our 4-2 win over the Galaxy was, for me, la glace briser, which in French means breaking the ice. We haven’t allowed more than two goals in a match since that night, and have posted six clean sheets, and nine wins against MLS clubs.
One of those wins came on the one-year anniversary of my injury, in a playoff game against my old club (Vancouver). It was hard to believe that twelve months earlier I was giving everyone a thumbs-up and being rushed to the hospital.
After our playoff win over Houston, a member of the press asked me about my injury (for the 1,000th time), and I replied: “Everything happens for a reason, and that reason is right now, to have a chance to go back to back. Everything is in the past now. What’s important is tomorrow.”
When I look back on the last 13 months, I realize how much I have learned about myself. My experience grounded me to what’s important in life, which is health and family. The rest is just secondary. It taught me that some things are more important than football.
With that said, I want this Cup. The boys and I are going to do everything in our power to win it.
The objective is to celebrate our second MLS Cup title with my teammates on the field, instead of in a hospital room, on FaceTime.