Twice in the last eight months he has had a dream delayed by injury, but former Brown soccer standout Cory Gibbs is far from done. Both the World Cup and Premiership await.
He was a man on the verge of fulfilling a lifelong dream. Named to the 2006 United States World Cup team, Brown graduate Cory Gibbs was about a week away from traveling to Germany with Coach Bruce Arena's squad.
Gibbs had played 90 minutes in a tuneup match against Morocco in Nashville, Tenn., and had gotten through the friendly without injury... so he thought.
"My injury must have happened during the game, but I didn't notice it," he told Sean O'Conor of Yanks Abroad, a soccer website, in December. "There was nothing I could pinpoint during the game, but after, when I was in the locker room taking a shower, the swelling began."
Yet he didn't fully comprehend what the swelling was telling him, or maybe he didn't want to. Gibbs intended to start against Venezuela in Cleveland, but the day before a detailed examination revealed the extent of the injury and the news was bad -- a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
His trip to his first World Cup was off. Instead of running out to the pitch before sellouts in Germany with 'USA' on his chest, he was facing surgery. "It was devastating, to be honest," he said.
There are a number of variations of the quote, but message is the same -- the ultimate measure of a person is not how they stand in moments in comfort, but how they stand at times of challenge.
And as Gibbs sat on his mother's couch back in Jamaica as the World Cup began, his mood became optimistic and positive. He needed neither advice nor lectures. "My focus was just to get started again, and that you know that these things happen," he said.
He also took inventory of how lucky he had been to pursue the career of a professional athlete. The son of Jamaican parents, the family moved to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., while his mother was pregnant with Cory in 1979. Raised in Florida, his family put him on a path for success that led to Brown University. His parents returned to Jamaica when Cory left for Providence.
Gibbs became one of the finest soccer players in League history. His senior resume alone told the tale -- leading Brown to the Ivy Championship and then to the Elite Eight of the NCAA College Cup. He was a first-team All-American and Ivy Player of the Year (as well as an Academic All-Ivy selection).
"Going to Brown was the best decision in my life," Gibbs said after moving to Germany to play professionally. "[Coach Mike] Noonan has been there for me in every situation possible and he has taught me a lot. Noonan is first class, to say the least."
In his first European season out of Brown, Gibbs became the youngest American ever to score a goal in the German First Division while playing for St. Pauli. But the atmosphere was a bit of a shock.
"Trust me," he said. "There is no greater feeling than being in the starting 11 and walking out to field with 40,000 fans chanting for or even against you."
Gibbs played for St. Pauli until 2004 when he signed with the MLS Dallas Burn. That return to the States bolstered his national team career as he established himself as one of the country's top defenders. He has now made 19 international appearances.
In 2005 he transferred to Feyenoord in Rotterdam and made an impact before a meniscus tear in a U.S. national team friendly against England. When Gibbs returned from his injury, he was loaned to ADO Den Haag for the remainder of the season. Yet his focus was fixed on the World Cup... and then playing English Premiership.
"I had a great experience in Holland," he told Yanks Abroad recently. "I loved it. I don't regret any of it, but to be honest the Dutch league was about four or five hard games that you would encounter throughout the season, whereas in the Premiership you never know who is going to win."
After he signed with Charlton Athletic in May of last year, he told the press, "It was just time for a change, and from day one I have always told you guys and everybody else the Premiership was my dream, so I am kind of living my dream and I just want to get fit to fully live my dream on a consistent basis now."
He returned to action for Charlton in November, but after a few short stints in exhibitions, the swelling returned and he underwent knee surgery again two weeks ago. His first season in Premiership was over before it began.
"Cory is such a good kid and so morally grounded that he feels guilty that he hasn't been able to help his new club," said Coach Noonan, who keeps in touch with Gibbs.
"He has such a passion to play the game," Noonan continued. "He is a very significant player in Ivy League history. Very few have represented their country and played in the top three leagues in the world. In fact, no other player in the history of the League."
"And he is resilient. He sees a way back."
— Brett Hoover