Canadian women’s soccer star Kara Lang’s comeback is on hold, and her potential return to the national team remains in doubt.
Lang, 27, confirmed to Sportsnet that she suffered a major setback in her comeback attempt when she reinjured her troubled knee during a training session with the Canadian women’s team in Vancouver on Tuesday.
She underwent an MRI and doctors confirmed with her Wednesday night that she tore her ACL, LCL, suffered severe cartilage damage, and tore the muscle behind her knee.
Lang retired in 2011 after twice tearing the ACL in her right knee during a five-year period. But last March she began a rehabilitation program in hopes of being able to once again represent her country at next summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup to be staged in Canada.
This latest setback has derailed her comeback, but she hasn’t made a final decision regarding her playing career.
"To be honest, I don’t know. Obviously I’m thinking a lot about it but I’m not making any decisions right now," Lang told Sportsnet on Thursday afternoon.
"I’m realistic. This will set me back at least a year and that doesn’t give me very much time for the World Cup. I’m well aware of how almost impossible it would be. But I’m not making any decisions yet."
The non-contact injury happened just two days after she had been cleared for full contact training. She was in only her second practice session with the Canadian team.
"I was chasing down a ball, and I was getting ready to cross it and I pushed off my right leg, and everything went," Lang explained. "It wasn’t even a huge cut, and there was no torque. It was just stepping down onto the pitch."
"I knew right away without the results of the MRI [that it was very bad] because it felt like it did the last two times, only much worse, and it turns out it is much worse."
After the doctors confirmed the bad news, she broke the news to her Canadian teammates.
"I was still in a bit of shock and I was numb when I told them," Lang explained, "even though I knew what was going on."
Lang said the knee is swollen and that she can still walk around on it, although she’s still experiencing some pain. She’s currently resting in Vancouver and hopes to have surgery on the knee after the completion of the Winter Olympics—turns out the best knee specialists are in Sochi and won’t be back in Canada until the Games are over.
"I could have surgery next week if I really wanted, but I want to be comfortable with my surgeon. I’m guessing I have a year’s worth of rehab ahead of me, so there’s no rush—I’m going to wait until after the Olympics," Lang said.
Lang decided to come out of retirement after being approached by John Herdman, who took over as coach of Canada in 2011. The two had a series of conversations, which began prior to the 2012 London Olympics, and after agreeing to try to come back Herdman sent Lang to Montreal last March when she began working under the supervision of a team of physical therapists and athletic therapists from B2ten, a privately funded organization committed to helping elite amateur athletes.
"John was a bit shaken to be honest when it first happened," Lang said. "He told me he’s here for me if I need him at all. I know he means that so that’s pretty special."
Months of gruelling and tedious rehab work appeared to have paid off when she underwent proliferation therapy—a series of regenerative injections that promotes stability in the joints. Proliferation therapy was the final hurdle, and she was then cleared to start full contact training with the women’s team in Vancouver.
Lang was expecting to play in her first game in the upcoming Cyprus Cup exhibition tournament that runs from March 5-12—and then, hopefully, at the 2015 World Cup.
Now, she faces yet another long rehabilitation process.
"It’s definitely hard to take, especially since I committed everything I had to this… I didn’t even have any back-up plan in this case. I’m just trying to still process it all. I know I’ll be fine because I’ve been through it before but it’s definitely disappointing," Lang said.
Born in Calgary, Lang debuted for the Canadian women’s team as a 15-year-old in a game versus Scotland on March 1, 2002. She scored her first two goals in her second match two days later against Wales. Lang went on to become one of Canada’s most loyal servants, starring as both a midfielder and forward, tallying an impressive 34 goals in 92 national team appearances, the most recent coming in 2010.
Lang also played at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and helped the Reds reach the semifinals of the 2003 FIFA Women’s World Cup in the United States—still Canada’s best showing at the tournament—when she scored two goals in six games. Amazingly, even though Lang hasn’t played for Canada in more than three years, she still ranks as the team’s fourth all-time leading scorer.
Lang said she doesn’t have any strong feelings of regret about mounting this comeback in light of this recent setback.
"I think it’s something that with the ups and down of this situation, I’m going to go back and forth on it and have some feelings of regret. But I imagine that they’ll be fleeting because I needed to push myself as far as I could possibly go to be able to look myself in the mirror and know that I did literally everything I could," Lang said. "I can say that now."
She also doesn’t want anybody feeling sorry for her.
"I have a very good life. At the end of the day, aside from a knee injury, I don’t have much to complain about. … I am really lucky that I have the resources to be able to handle this properly and I’m confident that I’m going to be taken care of," Lang offered.
"It’s going to be hard and it’s going to be painful but those are all minor things when a year from now I know I’ll be fine."
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