It's been a long road back for Colorado Rapids defender / midfielder Anthony Wallace. Nearly two years.
Last Saturday, Wallace replaced Edson Buddle in the 73' of a 1-0 win over Chivas USA, marking the first MLS appearance for the now 24-year-old since August 5, 2011.
“Honestly, it felt amazing," Wallace said afterwards. "I haven’t been in there in so long. I’ve been hungry to get back on and once I did I kind of felt right at home again. But yeah, it was great to be back out there.”
Wallace arrived in a 2010 trade from FC Dallas and started seven matches for the club late that season, as well as all four playoff matches, including the MLS Cup final. He earned his first call up to the U.S. Men's National Team the following January, but then his career took a turn backwards.
After starting nine games early in 2011, he fell out of favor and didn't play in 10 straight games. He returned as a late second half substitute against Columbus on August 5 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park, but just seconds after coming on, he sustained a sprained MCL in his left knee. While he recovered from that injury, doctors discovered damaged cartilage in his other knee. On September 19, 2011, he had microfracture surgery on his right knee and his season was over.
The next spring, while playing as a neutral in a training session on March 5, he tore his left Achilles and was ruled out for the entire 2012 season.
"It's been a difficult process for Wally, because of his injuries and such a prolonged absence," said coach Oscar Pareja on Tuesday. "But over the past two and a half weeks, he's built a competitive rhythm and he's working extra hard. And, I think he's getting mentally stronger. I think that's important because after having so many injuries and being out for so long, one naturally loses some mental strength. He's recovering that, and that's what I want and that's what we're emphasizing because he's a talented player."
Wallace trained all preseason but could not grab a hold of the left back spot he previously held. After missing two weeks with a slight groin strain, Wallace started two Reserve League matches which prepared him well for his return.
"These past few weeks I had a lot of great training sessions," said Wallace, who played in front of left back Chris Klute on Saturday. "I’ve been feeling really sharp and it paid off for me.”
Wallace became the 24th different player to appear in a match for the Rapids this season, which is more than any other team has utilized so far.