It was a scenario that Kevin Alston had thought about non-stop for nearly four months. And on Saturday, it finally became reality.
In the 84th minute of the Revolution’s 2-1 win over D.C. United, the 25-year-old defender sprang from the technical area to replace Dimitry Imbongo and, in the process, officially completed his comeback from chronic myelogenous leukemia (CML).
“It was ... it was unbelievable,” Alston, a native of Washington, D.C., told the media after the game. “My parents were there, my brother was there, my grandfather was there, all my family and friends, so it made it special to be able to do it in front of them.”
The story of Alston’s battle with CML -- a rare, but treatable form of leukemia -- goes back to the last time he saw the field, which came on March 30 against FC Dallas. In the closing minutes, Alston, a player regularly went 90 minutes, felt fatigued enough to come out of the game before full time.
After undergoing a battery of tests, Alston received the devastating diagnosis: He had leukemia.
Under the advice of his doctors, the fifth-year defender announced that he would take a leave of absence from the club in order to receive treatment. At the time, his status for returning to the field this season -- or ever, for that matter -- was up in the air.
Fortunately, his body responded well to the treatment, which included a battery of medication. Before long, he was back on the training pitch working his way back to fitness. But there were times in which he felt so close, yet so far way to making his return to the pitch.
“I’ve had to be very patient,” Alston said. “A lot of patience was necessary because there was so much unknown. I didn’t know how long it would be or what the recovery process would be.”
After going through two weeks of full training, the Revolution reactivated Alston on July 15. Although he was listed among the gameday 18 in the club’s next two matches, all he could do was watch and wait for his turn.
Initially, Revolution head coach Jay Heaps wanted ease Alston back into game action by sending him to the club’s USL-PRO affiliate in Rochester for “a game or two.” But with left back Chris Tierney battling a knee injury, that idea was scrapped, especially in light of last week’s grueling stretch of games.
“We needed a player and we needed an outside back,” Heaps told the media on Saturday. “We needed cover and you saw how it changed tonight when we were able to get Chris up. It’s almost like a signing and a lot of the players feel like we added a really excellent outside back.”
With the Revolution up a goal late, and Imbongo hobbling around with a knock, Heaps had a choice. He could keep his back line intact and add another midfielder. Or, he could go with Alston, who anxiously warmed up with his fellow reserves hoping to get the call.
Truthfully, though, there was no choice. Heaps brought him over to the technical area, where Alston shed his practice top to reveal a white undershirt that read “FIGHTER” and donned his familiar number 30 jersey for the first time since March.
“He’s been itching to get on the field,” Heaps said. “You could see when he came on he was like a shot out of a cannon.”
In six minutes of action, Alston put together five passes, and collected a couple of throw-ins. His contributions may have been modest, but the impact of his return was anything but.
“Everybody came over to congratulate me,” Alston said. “I was trying my hardest not to cry; I was fighting tears. They’ve been supportive since the start and they showed it again tonight.”