Veteran Baltimore Blast midfielder Mike Stankovic spent yesterday watching NFL games on television and preparing himself mentally for today's arthroscopic knee surgery that could determine his future in the game.
As Stankovic, 35, faces the 3:30 surgery on his right knee to ascertain the extent of ligament damage, the popular Blast player might be looking at the end of his 11-year career in the Major Soccer League.
Stankovic and Blast trainer Marty McGinty both said yesterday that he has a torn medial collateral ligament that would put him out of action six to eight weeks. But McGinty said Stankovic also may have a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
That would require major reconstructive surgery, sidelining Stankovic the rest of the season and threatening his career.
No athlete likes to talk about the end of his career due to an injury, but Stankovic spoke candidly about it after he was hurt in Saturday night's 3-2 loss to the first-place Wichita Wings (9-4) before 5,459 at the Baltimore Arena.
"This injury came at the wrong time," said Stankovic after the game. "But even if I never play again, I can't look back with any regrets because I've had a great career in Baltimore and had a lot of fun playing the game."
However, yesterday Stankovic said he felt certain that the damage was limited to the medial collateral tear.
"Usually when it's an anterior cruciate, you hear something squash in your knee when you get hit," said Stankovic, who was hurt in the first quarter when he ran into Wichita defender Terry Rowe after beating Tom Soehn one-on-one. "I didn't hear that awful sound. My knee just felt strange and I knew it was probably a medial collateral."
According to Stankovic, the injury occurred when Rowe fell over his knee with his body.
Stankovic said he would make no predictions on when he would return until after the surgery, but he insisted he would play again even if it were an anterior cruciate tear.
"I know for sure I can come back. Kai Haaskivi [a former Blast star who now plays for the Cleveland Crunch] had the same injury last year and he is back playing now," said Stankovic. "It's disappointing, but it's part of the job and life goes on."
Haaskivi was 35 when he was hurt and he will be 36 in five days.
McGinty also expressed optimism that Stankovic would play again even if the damage is a torn anterior cruciate.
"This would be our third surgery for the same injury in three years and both of the other players [former Blast midfielders David Vaudreuil and Angelo Panzetta] were all right after six to nine months," said McGinty. "I know they were younger [both in their early 20s] but Mike is an exceptional athlete who's in top shape. If anybody can do it at his age, he can."
Blast coach Kenny Cooper said yesterday that the team "looked unbalanced after Mike went out in the first quarter. It's a big loss for us. He was playing well. Mike can win a game for you, he's mentally tough and a leader."
Cooper, whose team lost its third straight at home and third in a row overall Saturday night, said he would start defender Doug Neely in Stankovic's midfield spot Thursday night against the Tacoma Stars and give rookie defender Kris Kelderman his first start.
"We've got to move some people around and make adjustments," said Cooper. "We were 7-5 and then Cris Vaccaro went out for two games and Mike was hurt in the first quarter of the next game. We lost two important people and three games."
Blast vice president of soccer operations Drew Forrester said yesterday that there is a chance that Stankovic could be replaced on the roster with another player.