Stankovic's knee badly damaged Blast veteran hopes to return next season

December 24, 1991|By Bill Free

Baltimore Blast midfielder Mike Stankovic, 35, underwent major reconstructive surgery to repair severe ligament damage in his right knee last night, and his future in the game is clouded.

Blast doctor Joseph Ciotola, who performed the surgery, said: "Mike sustained a complete tear of both the medial collateral and anterior cruciate ligaments in his right knee. The medial collateral was surgically repaired and the anterior cruciate was reconstructed with a procedure known as a tendon graft."

Stankovic, who has been with the Blast for nine seasons, will be out the rest of the season.

But Ciotola didn't rule out the possibility that Stankovic might return next season.

"Mike understands he suffered a major injury but he is also aware that if the rehabilitation goes well, soccer will be something he can continue to play," said Ciotola.

Stankovic discussed the possibility of his career being over DTC Saturday night after the injury occurred in a 3-2 loss to the Wichita Wings at the Baltimore Arena.

But last night after the surgery was over, Stankovic said he might be back next season.

"Providing I make satisfactory progress and the doctors think everything is fine, I will probably be back next year," Stankovic said. "I understand from talking to Dr. Ciotola that everything went well, which obviously makes me happy. I'm ready to start an exercise program and rehabilitation process as soon as they want me to."

Blast coach Kenny Cooper said last night that the loss of Stankovic resulted in an emotional day for him and has left his teammates upset.

"I was there when they wheeled Mike into surgery," Cooper said. "It was an emotional time for me. Mike and I have been through thick and thin, peaks and valleys. He loves the game."

Cooper said Stankovic told him before the operation: "I've got no regrets. I've had a great career. We'll take it one day at a time."

Cooper said whatever happens over the next several months, it will be Stankovic's decision whether he wants to try a comeback next season.

"One thing is for certain, Mike will continue his role as assistant coach during his rehabilitation process," Cooper said. "He'll be with me on the sidelines and sometimes he'll be upstairs. But just his presence means a lot to our players. I had a team meeting today and all the guys were upset about Mike. But we'll regroup and go on."

Cooper said he would look first at some of his players, such as Doug Neely and Mark Mettrick, as replacements at midfield for Stankovic this season before he decides whether to sign a midfielder from another team.

Blast vice president of soccer operations Drew Forrester said last night he was confident that Stankovic would be back next season even though he is 35.

"I don't think Mike's age will have anything to do with his recovery," said Forrester. "He's so mentally and physically strong that he can overcome something like this. It wasn't like the doctors looked at his knee and said there was no way he could play again."

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