One absentee from the Major League Soccer middle this season is Hilario Grajeda, but the experienced referee is firmly on the road to recovery after undergoing surgery to repair a long-standing injury.
The 2013 MLS Cup center official, who was also named MLS Referee of the Year in that season, went under the knife after suffering from a stress fracture in his foot.
The surgery went well and now Chico, as he is affectionately known, has made his officiating comeback by refereeing Cincinnati Saints versus Columbus Crew Reserves on Saturday, July 25.
The game, which was his first outing since refereeing Salt Lake City versus Toronto FC in early April, followed numerous weeks of hard work in the gym under the guidance of PRO Sports Scientist Matt Hawkey.
“It felt amazing to be back on the pitch,” Grajeda told proreferees.com. “To be quite honest, I was a bit nervous! I just wanted to represent the PRO badge well.
“My injury had been progressing for a while – it started last year and it wouldn’t heal.
“I finished the 2014 season in a lot of pain and returned this season with a lot of pain, so finally decided to get it fixed through major surgery.
“In the operation they shaved a bone and put a screw in my second toe where the stress fracture was, then they aligned the ligaments.
“I was in the gym two days after surgery with a hard cast on. I knew this would expedite my recovery and help maintain my fitness level.
“In the first month after surgery the aim was to maintain my aerobic volume, so I was using the rowing machine often.
“After that, I switched to single leg weightlifting to build and maintain strength and now, several weeks later, I’m jogging and re-learning the on-field referee movements.
“I’m feeling pretty good now – I’m still slow and not 100 per cent but I’m working hard with Matt, who has been first class.”
While Grajeda has been working closely with Hawkey in the Sports Science department, he has also maintained his involvement with his PRO refereeing colleagues.
The 48-year-old has continued to attend training camps, with the most recent being in Park City, Utah. He has also been kept busy away from soccer – his wedding is on the horizon and he has recently opened a fitness center with his fiancee Becky.
But he has his sights set on his MLS return, and his first taste of soccer since April has made him even more determined.
“Maintaining involvement with the guys was significant from a psychological aspect,” he added. “It allows me to be a part of everything, and stay in touch with the games also. When I’m back on the MLS field, I’m not going to have missed any news or procedures.
“The fitness center I’ve opened is in Springboro, Ohio. It was a dream of mine, as well as Becky’s, and the conditions were right. There’s a lot of work going on behind the scenes that we need to do to make it work but hopefully it goes well.
“The long-term plan is by the time I’m retired from professional refereeing, I can venture into something I really want to do, and maintain my fitness.
“But I’m by no means finished on the field. I still love refereeing. It was a dream come true when I became professional and it’s still my dream job.
“My aim is to get back on the MLS field in September. I can’t wait to return to MLS and be part of the regular lineup of referees once more.”