Toronto Star

Keep an eye on Matheson’s comeback in 2015

- Chris Young

Diana Matheson has planned her New Year’s Day, and frankly, it looks “boring,” she says.

“I don’t really have ‘days’ these days. I have weeks.”

She’ll go down to the basement of her parents’ Oakville house. A few miles on the stationary bike, perhaps, or some light weights and medicine ball routines. Finish with a cold one, as in therapy from the ice machine.

So it goes as she ticks another day toward those more important weeks off a calendar on the wall that has only one date marked in ink — June 6, when Canada’s national team opens play as World Cup hosts. With Matheson in uniform, or without her. The stark either/or has been in front driving her since Oct. 25, when the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee suddenly snapped in a friendly against defending World Cup champion Japan.

“It looked like nothing. I planted on my left, I heard a pop — I knew right away it was an ACL. You hear it all the time how it happens . . . and then it hurt,” she recalls. “Right after it happened, I was doing some quick mental arithmetic on the bench in my head, how much time to go.” Coach John Herdman had another thought. “When she went down and didn’t get back up again your heart sort of sank,” Herdman says, via email. “For Matheson to stay down, it takes a lot.”

She picks up the story: “It was definitely emotional. John came and gave me a hug after the game, and that had me tearing up. It’s a pretty tight group we have, and everyone was telling me that if anyone could come back, it’s me. That made me feel a little better.”

ACL tears typically take six months to heal, which means her window to return to her normal all-action midfielder’s combinatio­n of pace and pesterment opens just weeks before that opener against China. In Edmonton’s Commonweal­th Stadium, the same place where the accident occurred, of course.

So far, so good. Matheson goes to Vaughan twice a week to work with physiother­apist Erin Smith, then to Burlington for additional work. The plan calls for her to head back mid-January to the national team’s Vancouver base but for now, she’s bunking in with mom Laurel and dad Jon. Like the team, this is a tightly knit family — her younger sister even offered her a spare ligament for the Nov. 7 surgery. Matheson appreciate­d it, but declined.

“Her knees aren’t that great,” she explains.

It helps that she’s been through a similar countdown before and, at five-feet-nothing and 30 years old, has carved out a career thanks to single-mindedness and devotion to the game that has relegated other possible pursuits — like, say, from an economics degree she earned from Princeton that “looks nice on the wall” — into the background.

In November 2011, she went in for a routine arthroscop­y on her right knee only to discover a more exacting microfract­ure procedure was necessary, with a recovery period of up to a year that put her Olympics in jeopardy. She beat that deadline and made it to the London Games, where her injury-time goal won the bronze-medal game and her kiss-the-badge celebratio­n provided the iconic image.

“For the next couple months, I’d go on the subway in Toronto and grown men are recognizin­g me, coming up and telling me the team made them cry. Post-London was night and day, a watershed moment.

“For 10 years, we’ve always talked about how we notice playing games at home is so different, so special. And now a World Cup tournament here — it’s a totally different story.”

As she’s demonstrat­ed, it will be totally different without her. It makes Matheson’s return the biggest story leading into another watershed moment in 2015 — and by far the easiest to root for.

“. . . Everyone was telling me that if anyone could come back, it’s me. That made me feel a little better.” DIANA MATHESON

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