For the first few years of his MLS career, injuries forced John Thorrington
to watch a lot more than he played, but when healthy, his value to the
Fire goes beyond sticking a ball into the net against New England in a playoff game.
What Thorrington did before and after steering home a Cuauhtemoc Blanco
pass in the
34th minute last weekend in a 2-0 win is why Coach Denis Hamlett
gambled on the 30-year-old who had been sidelined more than a month with a mysterious groin injury, and during
Hamlett's years as a Fire assistant coach had been plagued with strained hamstrings and other problems.
"He's been through a lot," says Hamlett of the South Africa
native who had headed from Palos Verdes Estates (Southern California) to Manchester United as a 17-year-old and came to MLS in 2005 after scuffling in the lower tiers of English soccer with those
famous Towns, Grimsby and Huddersfield. "We've been able to work with him in terms of trying to limit the injuries.
"What he brings to our team is the work rate that just
goes beyond. When you have him and a guy like Logan
] in there, the amount of work they put in, it makes the job easier for Chris Rolfe
Blanco and Marco Pappa
and even Brian
], because they do so much. He's such a competitor it just feeds onto the other guys. We're
real happy he was able to get back for this game and we're looking forward to having him on the field on Saturday."
Thorrington played just 12 games in his first three MLS
seasons (2005-07) yet started 21 of his 23 appearances last season, scored five goals, and notched two assists. He played every minute in last year's playoffs, though a few scything tackles might
have merited more than the one caution he received. The chance to play every week, and contribute for a good team, renewed his appreciation for the game he very nearly abandoned.
came back to the Fire in 2005 and 2006, and I always had said I'll keep playing soccer as long as I'm enjoying it, and with all the time I spent out injured I just wasn't enjoying
it," says Thorrington, whose family moved from Johannesburg to Southern California when he was 2 years old.
"I tried to catch on with the LA teams and that didn't work
out, so I was basically looking at life after soccer. I made plans according. I studied to take a GMAT [Graduate Management Admission Test] and applied to business schools. In the midst of that
process the Fire got in touch and explained they needed some help in certain areas, and that a few things at changed. I came back on a short-term basis and thankfully I did stay healthy, and got back
to enjoying it, which was a big thing for me.
"Last year was the first year I really established myself as a starter and though I had a little bit of a hiccup with an injury this
year, I just signed a new contract, so I'm happy with that."
That hiccup mystified the team doctors. He had started 16 of the first 18 regular-season games but missed some time
with a back strain, sat out two games with red-card suspensions, and after playing in late August against D.C. United, spent the rest of the season getting examined and being wheeled into MRI machines
and growing more and more frustrated.
All told, he played only 19 league matches and didn't make a minute of the SuperLiga, and was on the bench but didn't play against New
England in the conference semifinals first leg. Yet for round two Hamlett gave him the start, and 90 minutes later, he had his first playoff goal and Chicago Fire a home date against Real Salt Lake in
the conference final.
He doesn't get many goals, but he makes them count. On the final day of the 2007 season he scored to end the Galaxy's surge toward the playoffs and edge
Chicago into the postseason, and last season his goal - again in a 1-0 win - spoiled the debut of Galaxy coach Bruce Arena
If both the Fire and Galaxy win their
conference finals, it could be déjà vu, take two. But nobody in red is looking that far ahead.
"I came back after the years of injuries and Denis has been here the
whole time I've been with the Fire," says Thorrington. "There is a level of trust in me, and he knows what he's going to get from me. It's been 4 ½ years I've been
with Denis, and nothing makes me happier than repaying the faith from him and the coaching staff for putting me out there.
"It's been kind of a roller-coaster couple of years,
but I'm grateful to God and to my family for being able to get back to the position I'm in, and also to the Fire for helping me through all that. I hope to repay that now."