Veronica Latsko laced up her boots last weekend fully intent on taking the field for a competitive game for the first time in seven months.
Latsko suffered an ACL injury in May that forced her to miss the majority of her second year with the club. The dynamic forward had just finished a record-breaking 2018-19 season in Australia, scoring nine goals for Adelaide United, and was poised to take on a more prominent role with the Dash during the FIFA Women’s World Cup. As the 2019 NWSL season got underway, the University of Virginia product was looking to build on her first season with the Dash, in which she tallied four goals and two assists in 21 appearances.
That momentum wasn’t lost on the training pitch where the injury occurred or in the operating room following the diagnosis of her injury. Latsko tackled the road to recovery head-on and it culminated with a 24-minute shift last Saturday as Sydney secured the second top spot in the table with a 2-0 victory over the Newcastle Jets.
“It was honestly one of the most exciting moments in my playing career. Every day leading up to the game, that week – I don’t think I stopped smiling, because I couldn’t wait for game day,” Latsko said. “All of the girls here in Sydney and back home in Houston were all so excited for me, everyone was counting down the days with me.”
Fellow Dash teammate Sofia Huerta was on the training pitch in May when the injury occurred, but more importantly, she was in the gym with Latsko as she began her physical therapy and on the field on Saturday for Latsko’s first minutes on the field.
“I was so excited. I have been with her during most of her recovery. So, I’ve had the privilege to see her dedication and hard work finally pay off,” Huerta said. “She really is one of the most inspiring people I’ve come across. Seeing her put in countless hours towards her recovery and physical therapy, and to be honest – lots of tears – and then to watch her warmup on the sideline with the biggest smile on her face. That made me so happy. The moment she came on the field, she brought so much energy and that’s so refreshing.”
As Latsko navigated physical therapy and her options to return to the field – she worked with her team in Houston at the Memorial Hermann Ironman Institute and Sydney FC to set a target for her return. The recovery time for a knee injury can vary between six months to a year, but it took Latsko a little more than 200 days to return to the pitch.
Latsko was confident she would return to the field relatively early in the W-League season, and the technical staff at Sydney FC had no doubt in her ability as they offered her one of their four international spots for the campaign.
“Before the season started, we had decided that the fifth game would be my first game, so I’ve been looking forward to this moment for what seems to be a very long time,” Latsko said. “There wasn’t much of a difference in preparation before this game, I had my 20 coffees and did a bit more pre-habilitation before the game to warm up the new knee. I pretty much did the same preparation that I always did before a match.”
Latsko’s response to adversity and her push to return to the field has inspired her teammates, including Huerta, who has shared the last seven months with her Sydney and Dash teammate.
“After the game I couldn’t stop smiling, I was so happy that I finally got to play in the game and turned to my teammates and told them I couldn’t wait for our next game on Friday,” Latsko said. “I don’t really see this past game as a mental hurdle or something that I was nervous about, that I needed to ‘get out of the way.’ I saw this past game as an opportunity to play the sport I love so much with people that I care so much about.”
Latsko is already looking forward to her second game on Friday for the annual derby showdown with Western Sydney Wanderers FC.
“These first minutes didn’t really change my perception of the next game,” she said. “I think I’m just as excited to play in my second game as I was in my first game; and I don’t really think this excitement is going to go away anytime soon.”