Off the PitchJan 17, 2019

Q&A: Mikey Ambrose on Persevering through Injury

After climbing the ranks from USL to MLS, Mikey Ambrose felt like he was just starting to hit his stride in his career. The El Paso, Texas native and University of Maryland product had worked his way up from the Austin Aztex of the USL, to being selected by Atlanta United in the Expansion Draft from Orlando City SC. 

Ambrose had just started seeing consistent playing time with Atlanta when he was sent to the second team for a game in Nashville. That night, he suffered a knee injury that would bring his season to a halt. 

Faced with a situation full of unknowns, Ambrose set out to make the most of his time off the field. He spoke with the PA about becoming his team's biggest fan through the MLS Cup final and using his time away from the game to grow his interests off the pitch. 

Q: What was it like getting picked in the Expansion Draft, and how has Atlanta been so far?

Getting picked was crazy. I was in Vegas for the Players Association meetings and I wasn’t even watching it. I got a call from Carlos Bocanegra and he was like 'Welcome to Atlanta,' So it was like 'Alright, here we go.' 

Atlanta is amazing, I love it. I love the city, I had never been there before I moved there to play so I didn't know what to expect. It’s a really fun city, there's so much fun stuff to do, so many different pockets to hang out in and there’s different vibes in each one. It’s a fun place to live, and obviously the fans and the atmosphere at the games is incredible. Living there and playing there is a lot of fun. I couldn't ask for a better place. 

Q: You had a tough injury this year. What happened?

I was actually in probably the best stretch of my career when it happened. I played, I think nine MLS games in a row and an Open Cup game. So I had played 10 games in a row and everything was going really well. Then they bumped me down to the second team to play in a game, so I traveled to Nashville to play there. 

I was going into the second half, and I was dropping back, traveling backwards.I pivoted on my right and I felt a little pop. It didn’t really hurt, it just felt a little weird and then like a needle was in my knee. So I just sat down and it started to swell up. That's when I started getting a little scared. I got on the bus back from Nashville and then had an MRI in the morning and they said I tore my meniscus and sprained my MCL. I had surgery on my medial meniscus and just had to recover my MCL. That took a total of four months. 

Q: How did it feel to get that news?

I was sitting in the locker room in Nashville and I was not in a good place. I didn't know what was going on and the doctor in Nashville thought it was my ACL so I was really worried. As a player you think career ending injuries and you think about an ACL. So I was pretty worried at that moment. I had some good teammates around me though. Kevin Kratz was there and he was just talking to me the whole time. I talked to some teammates and my family and they picked me back up. The bus ride home wasn’t that fun and then when I got the news from the doctor it wasn’t great news, but it was encouraging that it wasn’t my ACL.

Q: What is your work-life like when you’re recovering?

It’s totally different. Right when you get injured, life completely changes. You’re not solely focused on soccer anymore. If you look at it in a positive way, which you have to in that moment, it’s actually like a mental escape. As players we are in a stressful environment everyday, battling and fighting for our jobs. When you get hurt, you can’t do that anymore so all of the stress is lifted off your shoulders. You’re sad and upset that you can’t play, but you’re not stressed at all. It’s like a mental escape from the game for a little while.

It’s also different because you’re not really part of the team anymore. You go in at different times, leave at different times.  You’re not really there on game days besides to say good luck and shake their hands and then you go in after to say congrats. So you have to find ways to keep yourself motivated, set some goals, and entertain yourself. 

You are going to have these injuries. It’s about how you recover from them, how you get stronger."

Thankfully a few guys were injured at the same time as me, I had Sal Zizzo who had the exact same injury, so we went through the exact same steps together. Darlington Nagbe was injured too so we all hung out the whole time. Our medical staff is also a lot of fun, they are really good guys, so they kept everything light and positive. I just want to add a huge thank you to them, they were amazing. The way that they treated me and took care of me and got me healthy, I can’t thank them enough for everything.

Like I said, it’s a mental escape. Obviously I didn’t enjoy it, but I tried to make the best of it while I was hurt.

Q: How did you make the most of the time off?

I haven’t really had a chance to have a break from soccer in a long time. This was a chance for me to work on, and to do other things that I was interested in and to find a way to pursue those things. Like going and hanging out with kids at schools or training players in camps or individual sessions. I really enjoy talking to kids and trying to encourage them and motivate them and help them in whatever way I can. 

So I’m thankful that I was able to do that a lot, I was able to visit a lot of schools and youth programs and I got the chance to talk to a lot of kids throughout my whole injury so that gave me a lot of motivation to use my time wisely while I was injured.

Q: How did it feel to watch Atlanta win?

It was amazing. We have a close group, I have a lot of good friends on the team. It’s interesting, when you’re injured and you know you’re done for the season you kind of become a fan of the team. You want your friends to win, you want your teammates to win and do well. So I got to just watch the game and enjoy them and felt like a fan. When we would win those playoff games, I have never been so excited when I wasn’t playing to see my team win. For guys like Jeff (Larentowicz)  and Parky (Michael Parkhurst), I was just so excited for them. To watch Parky get his first cup, I was just so happy for him.

I’m itching like crazy to get back out there. I’ve been counting down the days now until I can play again. In the offseason when you’re on vacation you don’t think about it that much during that time. Right when you start training again though that’s when you start itching again and you can’t wait to start playing. I can’t wait for our first preseason game it’s going to be a lot of fun.

Q: What advice would you give to guys who find themselves hurt?

I would say that it’s part of your career, you are going to have these injuries. It’s about how you recover from them, how you get stronger.  Be patient. Don’t rush it. Getting injured is ok, but it’s the re-injury that’s bad. So take your time, be patient and find other things to do in your life, whatever other interests you have. 

In our career you don’t really get to pursue any other interests while you’re playing or until you’re done playing. When you have a break you can actually work on those things whether it’s something with kids, starting a business, or going back to school. Try to focus on that and it will make it all go a lot smoother and quicker. You will come back happier because you’ve pursued those things and hopefully built something up to pursue when you’re done playing. 

You can follow Mikey on Twitter and Instagram