Blair Gavin's long road back to health is nearly complete, and he's itching to get back on the field -- in a real game.
He hasn't played, not for real, since a hamstring injury prematurely ended his rookie season with Chivas USA last August, but he has gleaned insight from the frustration and has come into preseason camp in superb fitness, ready to take the final step in his rehabilitation.
"I'm feeling good and strong, feeling a lot better ...," Gavin said Friday following the Goats' first training session since returning from a nine-day team-building trek in Paso Robles. "I was off for a long time, so my offseason was working to get back to this point, and so when I came into preseason, why not be the fittest guy and continue from there. So I've been working at it awhile now."
Gavin, 22, a gifted, versatile midfielder who was enjoying a tremendous first campaign before he suffered a deep strain to his left hamstring, an injury that he tweaked twice before the Goats finally shut him down with about a month to go in the season, spent much of his offseason in Phoenix, his hometown, working with Athletes' Performance on "the mechanics of running ... so I'm not pulling on my hamstring as much."
He headed in January to Bradenton, Fla., where he used to be in residence with the U.S. under-17 team, working for two weeks with IMG Soccer Academy director Tom Durkin and his staff on ballwork, then headed to L.A. as Chivas began preparations for the 2011 season.
New Goats coach Robin Fraser has had his team working primarily on fitness since camp opened Jan. 20, and Gavin has been one of the standouts.
"He looks great. He looks absolutely great," Fraser said. "His fitness is fantastic. He has a truly competitive mentality where the more that's heaped upon him, the harder he tries. ... I liked Blair Gavin before we came in [last month as coaches], and I liked him [at the University of Akron], and I've been even more pleasantly surprised at how good his feet are and some of his ideas. He's a very, very promising player."
Gavin said the way last season ended taught him plenty about being a professional athlete.
"It was tough. Mentally, it was exhausting," he said. "I worked so hard to get back, would get back and then fall out. I think it was a pretty big learning curve for me to be more professional. Instead of getting [to the stadium for] practice, sitting around, go out to practice, come back, shower and leave immediately ... [now] I take my time, I stretch, I work out. I do the right things.
"This is a career that I want for a long time, and I've got to prolong that, and I've got to take the right steps to keep me out on the field and be there for the guys."
Fraser has told Gavin to take him time, make sure things are right -- "He says, 'You know, it's a long preseason. We need you ready by March 19; we don't need you ready by tomorrow," Gavin said -- but the midfielder hopes to be involved when Chivas takes on the San Jose Earthquakes in Monday's Home Depot Center scrimmage.
He still has steps to take before he's going to be ready for the Goats' MLS opener March 19 against Sporting Kansas City at Home Depot Center.
"I took off for awhile, and the speed [of play in MLS] ... it's fast," Gavin said. "So it's something where maybe you know what it was before, but you definitely have to have some training under your belt to get back up to the level. ... Once I start playing those friendly games and get back in rhythm, I think I'll be fine."
WORTH NOTING: Ernesto Carranza, a midfielder from Sacramento State taken in the second round of last month's supplemental draft has left camp. "He's a really hard-working kid, good technique, but we felt that at the moment he wasn't quite ready," Fraser said. "He certainly has a lot of promise, and I would like to monitor his progress and see how he goes forward. If we feel at some point that he would benefit, then we would love to be able to bring him back in." ... Riverside's Norberto Ochoa (Riverside Poly HS), a non-roster midfielder, underwent a medical exam Friday and is slated to join training next week. ... Forward Justin Braun, coming off a minor injury sustained last month while in the U.S. national team camp, did not accompany Chivas for its session in Paso Robles. ... The players haven't been alone while working on fitness. Fraser, his assistants and staff are doing the same drills as the players -- and everybody repeatedly ran a long obstacle course during Friday's practice. "We said we were all going to go through this together," Fraser said. "They're suffering, we're suffering. It's all about sacrifice."