KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The way Luke Sassano tells it, this is the best his right ankle has felt in three or four years.
After undergoing season-ending surgery last August while a member of the New York Red Bulls, Sassano spent the offseason rehabbing before Sporting Kansas City snatched the versatile utility man in the Re-Entry Draft, signing him to a three-month deal with an option for the rest of the season.
“It feels really good to be healthy for the first time in about a year-and-a-half,” Sassano said on Thursday following training. “I’m just really excited and looking forward to preseason.
"The offseason, I just devoted a lot of time to eating right, taking care of my body and doing a lot of weight lifting and strengthening just to make sure that coming in I would give myself the best opportunity to really make an impact and help out Kansas City.”
Though he was finally forced to go under the knife during the second half of 2010, Sassano said the injury dated back to his rookie year when he sprained his ankle during the Red Bulls’ playoff run in 2008.
With help from New York’s training staff and occasional pain-killing injections, Sassano was able to make 22 appearances for the team over the last year-and-a-half before deciding surgery was his best option last year.
[inline_node:305444]“It was a hard decision to go into surgery,” he said, "because I didn’t know if that was going to mean my time coming to an end in New York. But I also knew for my career it was probably the best decision to do it just to give myself an opportunity to finally be healthy.”
Sassano underwent a modified Brostrom procedure last summer in which two small screws were placed in his ankle bone, allowing doctors to reattach his ligament to the bone and provide stability in the joint.
Manager Peter Vermes originally said Sassano would likely have to come into camp and earn a contract following his selection in the Re-Entry Draft, but decided it was only fair to a player with a few seasons in the league be under contract while the coaching staff assessed his progress.
If healthy, Sassano’s MLS experience and ability to play a number of positions in the midfield and along the back line would make him a valuable cog for a diverse team loaded with CONCACAF pros that could be shorthanded in those areas during this summer’s Gold Cup.
For now, however, Vermes said they are encouraging Sassano to take it slow and come back at the proper pace.
“I don’t necessarily think it’s just the ankle when you are dealing with stuff like this,” Vermes said. “What happens when you haven’t played for the extended period of time that he hasn’t on a daily basis, you’ve got to get the rest of your body in tune with it as well. That’s why we have to be smart about the progression that we take with him. Right now, he looks pretty good.”
Sassano feels he will be ready for double sessions next week in Arizona before easing himself into game action and hopefully earning a place on Sporting's roster.
“It felt like a good opportunity to come in here,” Sassano said. “Hopefully, my future will be with Kansas City. I like the guys. I like the area. I’m just trying to take it week by week. My focus is just on getting healthy and trying to reclaim that confidence and earn a position amongst the team.”