Jose Adolfo Valencia, preseason, 2.3.12
Photo by Craig Mitchelldyer

Valencia working hard during his recovery

It’s a moment Jose Adolfo Valencia has pictured in his mind over and over again: the first time the 20-year-old Colombian finally steps onto the pitch at JELD-WEN Field in a Portland Timbers uniform.

Valencia, who arrived in the Rose City last winter with excitement and tremendous potential as a Young Designated Player signing from Independiente Santa Fe in his native country, saw his first season in MLS run off track after it was determined that he would undergo knee surgery in February with the timeframe of missing 6-to-12 months of action.

Just a couple days into preseason camp in a new league and a new country, Valencia was forced to deal with every athlete’s nightmare — surgery, coupled with the prospect of a lengthy recovery.

“I was really enthusiastic to come to Portland; unfortunately things didn’t go as planned,” Valencia said in Spanish through a translator. “With the injury, the enthusiasm went down, but I still have a lot of hope that things will get better for me and I can move on.”

The injury, which Timbers head athletic trainer Nik Wald referred to as an osteochondral lesion, seems to be much less common among professional athletes than other knee injuries. At some point while playing soccer, a portion of the cartilage on Valencia’s femur was damaged to the point where it needed to be repaired. Dr. Jonathan Greenleaf, the Timbers’ team doctor at Sports Medicine Oregon, completed the procedure in effect transplanting cartilage from a non-weight-bearing portion of Valencia’s femur to the damaged area, Wald said.

“It was weird,” Valencia said. “It was the type of injury that I didn’t feel any pain or indication that would tell me that I was injured.”

Now, nearly four months into his rehabilitation, Valencia is ahead of schedule and making positive progress toward getting back onto the field. He has started jogging and playing around with a ball at his feet — surely something he missed while spending a considerable amount of time on crutches.

“The doctor and medical staff tell me that we’re three months ahead of schedule,” Valencia said. “I don’t want to get antsy, I don’t want to do too much. We need to take it step-by-step and make sure that the recovery is excellent and that way I can give my all on the field when I get the opportunity.”

“We don’t see this type of therapy in Colombia,” he continued. “There are a lot of different exercises that they use here to help you recover. They require a lot of concentration and a lot of energy and your willingness to do them.”

Wald and his assistant athletic trainer Jun Morishita have spearheaded Valencia’s recovery since Day 1, setting waypoints and goals for the young Colombian to reach, while also focusing on his total fitness, as opposed to just his recovering knee.

“He was already a good, if not great soccer player, but there were deficiencies that we saw doing some of the screening that we do, in his movement patterns,” Wald said. “We identified those and have been working on them every day so different injuries or the same injury don’t happen again.”

“The knee almost becomes secondary,” Wald said of Valencia’s continued treatment. “It’s making sure the rest of his body is prepared to take that next step to get back on the field.”

Valencia has hit every marker so far through his therapy, with another coming closer by the day.

“He’s going to see Dr. Greenleaf at the end of this week,” Wald said. “If Greenleaf gives the thumbs up, he’s going to start working with our fitness coach John Ireland to build his fitness levels.”

And building those fitness levels is another step closer to returning to training with the team, but Valencia was sure to make it known that he wants to make a complete recovery before taking any chances.

“He’s close to being back on the pitch and healthy,” Wald said. “Hopefully, a more rounded healthy now than he was when he first came in.”

All the while, he’s had the support of family, friends and his teammates with the Timbers to help guide him through the highs and lows of rehabilitation.

“I feel sad when I see the guys competing,” Valencia said. “I feel nostalgic that I can’t be there with them because that’s what I like doing. It’s been a difficult process, but thankfully I’ve had the help of my family. Their support is really important to me and without that support I wouldn’t be able to do it. Also, the support of my teammates has been terrific. They always cheer me up and try to help me out. There are a lot of feelings involved in this. Now, I’m happy to be here. I feel great and I think the process is evolving in a positive manner and I’m just waiting for the day when I can play again.”

No one really knows for sure when that day will come, but one thing is certain: Valencia will keep envisioning that moment time, and time again.

“I always see that moment – I don’t know when, I don’t know when that day is going to be – but I visualize it,” Valencia said. “I’m preparing for that moment and the expectations of the fans when they see me out there. That’s why I want to make this process as effective as possible so I’ll recover 100 percent. So when I go onto the field it will just be exciting.”