Red Bulls defender Stephen Keel has been forced against his own ambition to literally wait. And wait. And wait some more.
In an effort to follow doctor’s orders, Keel was advised to follow through with one simple rule as he continues to rehab from a back injury – do nothing.
No running. No lifting. No strenuous activities that could potentially aggravate his back or, in the worst case, set his recovery behind schedule.
For a guy like Keel, who continuously looks for ways to improve on facets of his game, challenge himself to new levels in the weight room and stay active on all fronts, doing nothing was one of the worst things he’s had to endure in quite some time.
“I’m not a person who can sit around for at least two to three days. I need at least a jog or something, some weights,” he said. “You want to do something, and you feel like you want to do something, but you can’t because it’s not good.”
Keel was forced off the pitch during halftime of the Red Bulls’ Apr. 22 match against D.C. United with stiffness in his back. Soon thereafter the injury was diagnosed as a stress fracture in his lower back. Since then the 29-year-old defender has remained under the watchful eye of the team’s trainers, who continue to monitor his off-field activities closely as he makes the slow and steady path back to recovery.
Thankfully the news was positive on Wednesday during the team’s training session at Montclair State University. While there is still no exact deadline for his return, Keel was at least given the thumbs up to resume some minor workouts such as jogging and some light kickaround. On Thursday he even set foot on the pitch for some drills and a full-pitch scrimmage.
“It feels good to be back out here, back with the lads and everything,” Keel said. “So far so good. It’s just following the training staff’s orders – not pushing it too quick.”
The forced time away from the pitch has required Keel to get creative with his time, whose more recent activities range from watching movies, reading books and even wandering aimlessly around stores to simply get out of the house and do…something. When possible, no matter how limited he may be forced to be, Keel’s always opted for some way to mesh with his teammates.
“In the beginning you really appreciate different things,” said Keel. “Just being around the guys and stuff. I was given a couple of days off, more than usual, so I would just come here at lunch and kick with the guys and feel like I’m part of the team.”
From here the regimen more or less stays the same as Keel continues to work his way back to match fitness. Cold tubs and hot tubs. Massages and jogs around the pitch. He knows what needs to be done, even if it requires that dreaded elements of every athlete’s recovery – time.
Not that his time away has made him a stranger to the team’s recent string of success.
“It’s unbelievable. It’s awesome,” Keel said. “Four wins, you go on the road and get two wins as well, at LA and Philly, which are incredibly tough places to play, so it speaks volumes for the depth of the team and the quality of players we have. It’s exciting times to be on top of the Eastern Conference right now. That’s great and all, but I think we all know what our goal at the end of the season is.”
The Red Bulls are back in action Saturday on MSG when they head off to Montreal for a 7:30pm ET kick off against the Impact. The team then returns home May 23 for a meeting with Chivas USA at 7pm ET. Get your tickets now at Red Bulls Ticket Central or by calling 877.RB.SOCCER.