Bakary Soumare would probably tell you that 2012 was the most difficult season of his professional career.
The six-foot-four defender signed with Philadelphia last June, but played just one game before underdoing a minor surgical procedure that ended his year.
"Very frustrating. It was very frustrating," Soumare told reporters following Monday's training session at YSC Sports. "It was my first injury since I've been a pro, so it was tough mentally. But that's part of the game. Sometimes you have to deal with the ups and the downs and that was one of the downs. But I was able to recover, and I'm feeling good, and I'm just happy to be back and healthy.
Soumare revealed that he worked on his knee every single day during the offseason.
"It took a lot of work, but it was good," Soumare said. "When I left here, me and (head athletic trainer Paul Rushing) had a game plan. I went back to Chicago and I had rehab every day. I had a trainer, yoga, pilates - it's a combination of a lot of different things. But if that's what it was going to take to get me back on my feet, then that's what it was going to be. The process was good. I'm just excited and very motivated, because I haven't played since, besides the Chicago game with Philly, it was in Germany, it was mid-March. When we open the season this year, it'll have been a year. I'm just happy to be back playing with the guys."
Soumare joined the Union last season from second division German side Karlsruher SC. He underwent major knee surgery in April, then had a follow up procedure in September.
The lone appearance with the Union came in August against his former club, the Fire.
"I was training every day with the team and sometimes you felt good and sometimes you felt terrible," Soumare explained. "We tried to grind it out, we tried to find ways to make it work towards the end of the season, but then you got to a point where there was nothing to play for. We weren't going to the playoffs, so why even push it? We (felt like we) might as well go and have the scope done, and recover, and use the offseason wisely to work on the things I need to work on. That's how it worked out."
The departure of captain Carlos Valdes leaves the door wide open for a new pairing on the Union backline. Soumare says he's looking forward to competing with Jeff Parke and Amobi Okugo for a starting job in central defense.
"Carlos left, and we have the addition of Jeff, who's a really good player," Soumare added. "We have Amobi who can play there. There's going to be competition. It's not like just because Carlos left that the spot is wide open and I'm going to step in. We have to earn the spots, every single one of us. That's how I look at it. I'm gonna keep working hard for the next five weeks and hopefully come March 2 I'll be fit."
Should Amobi Okugo return to his role in the midfield this year, Soumare and Parke would be a possible pairing at center half.
"I've known Jeff because I played against him back in my days in Chicago when he was with New York," Soumare said. "He's a really good player. He's got a lot of experience, he's been around. I'm looking forward to (playing with him)."
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org