KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Two years ago, Kortne Ford was staring down the prospect of a premature end to his professional soccer career.
Now, the 26-year-old Ford finds himself living a dream with childhood hometown’s MLS franchise, Sporting Kansas City.
But Ford’s journey to a fifth consecutive start at centerback Wednesday against the Colorado Rapids with Nicolas Isimat-Mirin sidelined hardly has been a straightforward one.
Four years ago, Ford suffered a relatively minor knee injury, a grade II tear in the MCL and PCL of his left knee. He underwent surgery to repair the ligaments, which should have sidelined him nine to 12 months for a typical recovery.
There were complications, which cost him nearly three seasons.
“One of the procedures that I had actually led to a bigger problem, and that bigger problem is what kept me off the pitch for so long,” Ford said.
Fluid — about 300 ccs, or 1 1/4 cups, per week — was building up around the repaired knee. While structurally it was fine, Ford missed the 2019 and 2020 seasons as doctors and specialists worked to solve the fluid issue.
Two summers ago, Ford underwent surgery again, a last-ditch effort to get the knee healthy enough for him to resume his pro soccer career.
“I went into my last surgery in Rochester at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, knowing that it was the last attempt that we were giving it,” he said.
If the surgery didn’t work, Ford — an Olathe native, who moved to Colorado at age 12 and started his MLS career in 2017 with the Rapids — knew that his career probably was finished.
“Fortunately, it was solved and it was fixed shortly after that surgery,” Ford said. “But there was definitely a time going into that surgery where I knew that this was it. It was a tough reality to face, but I couldn’t be more grateful that that wasn’t the situation.”
Ford worked himself back in shape last summer after Colorado loaned him to San Antonio FC, a USL Championship.
After 1,042 days away from the game, Ford returned to the professional pitch on Aug. 21, 2021. He appeared in 13 games for San Antonio the rest of the season, going the full 90 in each game, but never got recalled to the Rapids and became a free agent after the season.
He signed with Sporting KC in January and got a fresh start to his career.
“It means the world,” Ford said. “It’s a big part of why I came here. It meant a lot to come to an organization where the coaching staff believed in me, believed in my abilities and had confidence in me.”
It doesn’t hurt that Ford grew up as a Sporting KC fan — back when the team was still known as the Wizards.
“I never missed a Kansas City Wizards game growing up,” Ford said. “They were playing over in Arrowhead Stadium and I have distinct memories of watching Kei Kamara play here. It’s kind of crazy, but as a young kid you grow up going to those games and it’s a dream. It’s a dream you have, and it’s kind of surreal being able to achieve that dream.”
Ford debuted for Sporting KC on March 12, subbing on for the final 10 minutes in a 2-0 loss in Colorado. He is expected to be in the starting lineup for Wednesday’s rematch.
“I’m extremely motivated; it’s one of those games I look forward to,” he said.
Sporting KC Manager and Sporting Director Peter Vermes praised Ford as a one-on-one defender as well for his ability in the air and to read the game.
“He defends the goal,” Vermes said. “In his mind, he wants to get a shutout every game and he uses his body in every way possible to defend the goal.”
Vermes also praised his contributions as a communicator on the back line.
“He’s a guy that is boisterous in the sense that he’s willing to organize and speak,” Vermes said. “It’s one of the really important aspects of that position, but so many players don’t do it enough.”
Coming off a 7-2 loss last Saturday at the Portland Timbers, Sporting KC hopes to rebound against Colorado at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday at Children's Mercy Park. The game can be seen on 38 The Spot.
Sporting KC will be without centerback Robi Volleder (red card suspension), midfielder Roger Espinoza (yellow card accumulation), Isimat Mirin (facial injury/concussion) and midfielder Ozzie Cisneros (hamstring).
Three other veteran players — forwards Johnny Russell (knee) and Khiry Shelton (hamstring) and right back Graham Zusi (thigh) — are questionable.