Photo by ISIphotos.com
By THOMAS FLOYD
George John has experienced his fair share of setbacks in the past year. But if the FC Dallas centerback's spirits have been dampened, he isn't showing it.
Last summer, a deal that would have sent John to English side Blackburn Rovers FC fell through. Then, the 25-year-old's offseason loan across the pond with West Ham United saw him never get off the bench. Once he returned to MLS, John found himself sidelined for seven games with a concussion as Dallas' winless drought stretched to three months.
A month ago, John made his return. In starting Dallas' past five matches, the 6-foot-3 defender has worked his way back to form, re-emerging as a physical force while his club used a three-game winning streak to get back in the playoff conversation.
"It's been a roller coaster for him," Dallas right back Zach Loyd said. "He's continued to have a good attitude both on and off the field. It's great for the younger guys to see that there's going to be a lot of adversity in your career, but if you continue to work at it, continue to have a positive attitude, things will work out."
Although much of the credit for Dallas' surge has gone to the return from long-term injury of playmaker David Ferreira and winger Brek Shea's uptick in confidence, having John back in the mix has been crucial as well. While Dallas sat in last place earlier this summer, coach Schellas Hyndman's side now is just five points out of a playoff slot.
It's been a satisfying development for John, who had to cope with an uncertain timetable after suffering the concussion in a U.S. Open Cup loss to the Charlotte Eagles in late May.
"It's the first time in my career I had to sit out that long, and it was very frustrating, to say the least," John said. "It seemed like I would take two steps forward and one step back. I'd make progress, and all of a sudden I'd get symptoms again. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel — it just took a lot longer than expected."
The injury came just as John was finding a rhythm following a slow start to the year. After missing preseason while on loan to West Ham, he found himself on the bench for Dallas' first two matches as he regained fitness.
Mentally, though, John said his focus hasn't wavered.
"I'm the kind of the guy who I just look at the task at hand," he explained. "Living in a foreign country was a good personal experience as well as soccer experience. I grew a lot. They ended up not buying me, and it is what it is. Now I'm back in Dallas, and I'm happy I'm back here."
With captain Ugo Ihemelu now sidelined by a concussion himself, John has assumed more of a defensive leadership role for Dallas in his fourth season.
John's authoritative presence has been all the more crucial considering his centerback partner in recent weeks has been rookie Matt Hedges, Dallas' first-round SuperDraft pick out of North Carolina.
"George has definitely stepped up and taken that role," Loyd said. "I think each game our back line has gotten stronger and stronger, and part of that is George's leadership. He does a good job of communicating and trying to pull guys where he needs them, and I think that's something we were kind of lacking when he wasn't playing."
If John continues his fine play, it's only a matter of time before he again draws interest on the international stage, as he did this past January when he was called in by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann but missed the camp because of his West Ham stint.
A dual citizen who also has been invited to train with the Greece national team but remains uncapped, John simply is keeping his focus on the field, hoping the situation will play itself out.
That isn't to say, however, that the thought of suiting up internationally doesn't drive him.
"I'm just playing as well as I can and waiting to see what's going to happen," John said. "As a little kid, every kid wants to play for the national team, so that's definitely motivation for me."