His soccer career derailed by a knee injury that didn't heal as anticipated, Brent Richards has become perhaps one of the first Americans to have a recently-discovered knee ligament surgically repaired.
"My doctors told me I might be the only person who has ever had just this ALL surgery" separate from an ACL repair, Richards said.
That surgery took place in late January, almost exactly one year after the Camas native injured his left knee while training with the Portland Timbers.
Despite surgery in February of 2013 to repair his anterior cruciate ligament and a later operation to clean up scar tissue, Richards was unable to return to training. He missed the entire 2013 season, and in December was waived by the Timbers.
The presence of the ligament dubbed the anterolateral ligament was made public last year, when doctors in Belgium reported that they had identified the previously unnamed ligament in 40 cadaver knees. A friend showed Richards an article about the new ligament, and he then introduced his doctors to the anterolateral ligament research.
Richards said the pain from his initial injury did not go away after his first surgery and that the stability in his knee never returned to the point where he could comfortably move the way a soccer player must. He is hopeful that the ALL was the reason.
When introducing their studies last year, Dr. Steven Claes and Dr. Johan Bellemans said they believe that many people who suffer ACL tears also tear the ALL and that injury likely causes the rotational instability that some ACL patients continue to experience.
Richards, 23, hopes his is a case that proves their theory.
Richards said that Timbers team surgeon Dr. Richard Edelson consulted with the Belgium doctors before surgically repairing his anterolateral ligament. Richards said that Edelson expected to need to do another repair on his injured ACL when they operated this January, but found the ACL healed.
The ACL "was a little bit loose" but did not require another repair, Richards said. Edelson reconstructed the anterolateral ligament and told Richards that after the ALL his ACL felt solid and tighter like the ACL should feel.
Less than six weeks after his most recent surgery, Richards is again playing the waiting game. He does strength training and rehabilitation exercises. It will be at least another two months before he can start running, and at least four months before he will be able to test the knee by turning on it the way soccer players must.
"This is the longest time I have not played soccer since I started playing when I was 4," Richards said. "The last year was definitely disappointing. Not playing for a year has been difficult."
So was getting waived by the Timbers, though Richards said he understands the reasons.
"Caleb (Porter) hadn't seen me play at all," Richards noted. And after two years, he could no longer play under a MLS home-grown player contract. For the Timbers, keeping Richards would have required investing in a still injured and unproven player.
Once his knee heals, Richards intends to prove himself again. The hardships of the past year have not soured the former Camas High School and University of Washington standout on playing soccer for a living.
"I still plan to play professional soccer," Richards said. "It's been my dream since I was a kid and it's still my goal."