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'Believe:' Sporting KC defender Ben Sweat reflects on journey back from ACL surgery

MLS New York City FC Sounders Soccer
Posted at 9:54 AM, Mar 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-22 11:29:40-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A single word is tattooed on the back of Sporting Kansas City defender Ben Sweat’s left tricep — believe.

“I got it last year actually after the injury,” Sweat, who tore the ACL in his left knee last April during a game with Austin FC, said. “I went through a really tough time last year mentally. My wife (Inis) can attest to that. I think it’s just a strong word.”

Sweat, a 30-year-old left back in his first season with Sporting KC, had never dealt with a significant injury before in his soccer career.

He stayed relatively healthy growing up in Palm Harbor, Florida, during a standout career at the University of South Florida, and as he fought to establish himself in MLS after being a first-round pick in the 2014 SuperDraft.

Then came the opening 20 minutes of Austin FC’s win on April 24, 2021, at Colorado and an injury that robbed Sweat of soccer for the first time in his adult life.

He had to believe — believe in himself, believe in his medical team, believe in his body and believe he would make it to the other side and return to the field.

“It was tough at the start — not being able to do anything, losing all my muscle in my legs, looking like an absolute twig,” Sweat said. “It just was a word. I started to get really into tattoos last year, and it’s just a word that stuck with me.”

That belief paid off when Sweat returned to the field on March 12 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado.

He made his Sporting KC debut, subbing in for the final nine minutes on the same field where he’d been injured nearly 11 months earlier.

“It was weird,” Sweat said. “It’s a weird feeling with football (soccer) how everything kind of comes full circle. The fact that I tore my ACL in Colorado and then my first game back in almost a year is in Colorado. There was a lot of excitement, a lot of emotion in the back of my mind, but it’s good to just get over that hurdle, get those first real minutes and put it behind me. Now, I don’t have to think about my injury anymore.”

Sweat made his first start with Sporting KC on March 19 at the Chicago Fire FC, another hurdle cleared for the seven-year MLS veteran.

“Physically, I thought I could have played after three, four, five months,” Sweat said. “But the mental part of it — knowing that you’re out for the full season and going from starting, playing every game, to having to sit and watch and see the environment — you miss it, you get out of a routine and rhythm and it’s tough. You have to occupy yourself with other things and keep yourself happy off the field.”

Sweat is grateful those days are behind him and hopeful Sporting KC can turn things around after a sluggish start to the 2022 season.

“This has always been a really good club,” Sweat said. “It’s always been a good club and I think it’s a club that I can come in and I can put some silver on my shelf in my career. Being 30 years old and coming here, I wanted to be in an environment where it’s competitive, disciplined and where accountability and responsibility are a really big thing. That’s what (Sporting KC Manager and Sporting Director) Peter (Vermes) hounds on us about.”

Sporting KC (1-3-0) returns to action at 6 p.m. on Saturday against Real Salt Lake (3-0-1) at Children's Mercy Park. The game will air on 38 The Spot.