Hilario Grajeda returns to the MLS middle for the first time since Week 4 of the 2015 season, and he cannot wait to be back in the thick of the action this weekend.
Chico, as he is affectionately known, underwent surgery last year following a stress fracture in his foot, but after months of rehabilitation and a successful preseason camp in Arizona, the official is ready to make his return.
“I’m very excited, just to get back in the routine, back with the boys and back on the field,” said Grajeda, who takes charge of Columbus Crew versus Philadelphia Union in Week 2.
“It was bitter-sweet not being able to work games, but I guess we all need a break mentally and physically, and not being able to perform last year gives me a different perspective.
“But I feel good and I feel hungry again. It seems like everything is new. Even though I’m one of the veterans, it feels refreshing. I feel good physically and ready to go.”
Grajeda returned towards the end of the last campaign, being assigned fourth official duties towards the MLS climax, along with a handful of NASL center assignments.
It was a long road to recovery for the 49-year-old, who refereed the 2013 MLS Cup and MLS All-Star game, but he heaped praise on PRO’s staff for their support along the way.
“I just could not imagine getting through this without their support, they’ve been fantastic,” continued Grajeda, who was named MLS Referee of the Year in 2013.
“The team they put together for me alone, it was just first-class. They’ve been so supportive, from the administrative side and also working with Matt [Hawkey, Sports Scientist], making sure my fitness stayed at some sort of level and didn’t drop too much.
“Mentally, it was a struggle – all the what ifs; what if something went wrong, facing the preseason fitness test. But I needed those obstacles and I’m glad I’m over them, and I can now look forward.”