By THOMAS FLOYD
WASHINGTON — For 10 minutes Saturday, Kevin Alston buried a life-threatening battle in the back of his mind and focused on the task at hand. “Don’t mess up,” he told himself. Protect the lead. Seize three points.
It wasn’t until the final whistle blew that he finally processed the moment. Nearly four months after leaving the New England Revolution to undergo treatment for leukemia, he was back on a soccer field.
His teammates embraced him. And he fought back tears.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve just been laying in bed or in the shower just thinking about being on the field and playing,” Alston said. “As soon as the game was over, everybody came over to congratulate me, and I was trying my hardest not to cry.”
For a player who grew up in Silver Spring, Md., the late cameo in New England’s 2-1 win over D.C. United marked an emotional milestone in his comeback. Not only did he see game action for the first time since late March — he did so with his parents, brother, grandfather and hometown friends on hand to share the occasion.
“It made it that much more special,” Alston said, “to be able to do it in front of them.”
To the Revolution, Alston’s return carries a tangible lift in spirits for a team that has rallied around his recovery. Plus it never hurts to add to the mix a former All-Star fullback who, in his fifth season, ranks among the elder statesman on New England’s young squad.
As coach Jay Heaps said, “He’s an old soul in our locker room and someone the guys lean on.”
“It gave us all a boost,” defender Chris Tierney said. “Everyone knows what he’s been through, and he’s an inspiration to all of us. We all feed off the energy that he brings every day, and we’re all super proud of him.”
Throughout the recovery process, Alston coped with “a lot of unknown.” On several occasions, he walked into a doctor’s appointment with a sense of optimism, only to realize the road ahead was still longer and more arduous than he had thought.
“That was my fault,” he said, “for setting myself up to fall like that.”
But Alston endured. On July 15, he was removed from the disabled list. At RFK Stadium on Saturday, his presence at left back in the dying moments helped lock up a crucial road result for the Revolution (8-7-6) in their search for an elusive playoff berth.
“He was exactly what we needed: a shot of energy,” Heaps said. “He’s been itching to get on the field, and you could see it tonight. When he went out, he shot out of a cannon.”
While Alston knows he needs minutes to develop game fitness, he’s taking things one step at a time. After facing cancer at 25 years old, it’s easy to put things in perspective.
And whether he’s 100 percent or not on the field doesn’t really matter. As far as Alston is concerned, he’s never felt better.
“Night and day compared to what I felt before,” Alston said. “It’s completely different. I feel like I’m starting fresh, starting over. I feel like there’s no weight on my shoulders right now. I feel a lot better.”