Sometimes it ends before it begins.
Such is the story of Joey Piatczyc, the New York Red Bulls 4th round draft pick out of West Virginia. Piatczyc scored 12 goals and notched 35 assists during his tenure with the Mountaineers, and looked ready to continue at the next level of professional soccer.
The Red Bulls drafted Piatczyc with the 84th pick in the MLS SuperDraft. His highlights, posted by the Red Bulls, showed a crafty midfielder with a nose for goal and strong set piece delivery. He seemed a perfect fit for the New York Red Bulls II’s squad rebuild for 2019.
The Red Bulls travelled to Florida to begin preseason training last week, and Piatczyc’s name did not appear on the preseason roster list. A few short days later, he announced his retirement due to health concerns.
A weird feeling
It all started in mid-December. Piatczyc travelled to Las Vegas to take part in a player combine for a number of MLS Teams and the Las Vegas Lights FC of the USL Championship.
“My knee started having a weird feeling,” said Piatczyc. “It wasn’t really pain. It was just a weird discomfort type feeling.”
Upon returning from Las Vegas, Piatczyc took about a week off to rest up for the MLS combine in Florida. After the second day at the combine, his knee began to swell and became painful. The doctor at the combine examined Piatczyc, but didn’t see any reason to believe it was a serious injury and playing through the pain would not cause further damage.
So Piatczyc played through the pain.
An MRI when he returned home following the draft showed a tear in his lateral meniscus. He informed the Red Bulls of the issue immediately.
“I called over to tell [Chris] Armas, Denis [Hamlett] and to Russ [Steves],” said Piatczyc. “They were great about it. I told them the doctor said I had a torn meniscus, and I just need a scope. I need like four or five weeks and I’ll be back healthy and ready to go.
“They made sure my health was put first. ‘Just get healthy’. ‘Don’t worry about trying to rush it’. ‘The opportunity is here for you when you get here.'”
He returned to Kansas City for surgery, but his surgeon noticed a problem. Piatczyc had a cartilage defect. Unfortunately, they did not know the extent of the injury just yet. During the planned surgery, doctors examined Piatczyc’s cartilage.
The damage done
“They saw the cartilage, and it was really destroyed.”
He woke up to the news that the cartilage was in bad shape, and that it would take a research facility in Boston using stem cells to fix the problem. A facility in Boston could grow the articular cartilage within about 90 days. It required knee surgery sometime in the next two years.
The recovery time for such a surgery is between 9 and 16 months. It also meant that Piatczyc would not be able to return to the field without significantly compromising his future mobility.
Articular cartilage covers the femur and the knee. It is a critical piece of cartilage that protects the joint.
Articular cartilage is the highly specialized connective tissue of diarthrodial joints. Its principal function is to provide a smooth, lubricated surface for articulation and to facilitate the transmission of loads with a low frictional coefficient. Articular cartilage is devoid of blood vessels, lymphatics, and nerves and is subject to a harsh biomechanical environment. Most important, articular cartilage has a limited capacity for intrinsic healing and repair. In this regard, the preservation and health of articular cartilage are paramount to joint health.From https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3445147/
Piatczyc had only just woken up from surgery, and could not absorb all the news. It was only after talking to his father on the way home that the depth of the issue truly struck home.
“I’m just waking up, I’m literally still drugged up from surgery,” said Piatczyc. “I remember in the car my dad was telling me because I didn’t really remember. I looked at him and said ‘So it’s done?'”
His father left it up to him. “At the end of the day it’s your call.”
“At the end of the day, it’s your call.”
They talked it over, and Piatczyc weighed the options. Waiting until after surgery meant Piatczyc entering his rookie season at 25-years-old without a guarantee of making the Red Bulls MLS squad. Combined with the uncertain health of his knee, Piatczyc knew what he had to do.
Despite the blow to his pro sports career, Piatczyc remains optimistic about the future. While he does not know what that future holds, he is not waiting for it to be handed to him. He is looking to begin his professional career off the pitch, sending out resumes and networking. He is even entertaining the idea of working as a sports agent.
When reached for comment, the team replied:
“The Red Bulls wish him and his family all the best in their next chapter”
We also wish Joey Piatczyc luck in his future endeavors.