This winter, just as D.C. United were gearing up for the first leg of their preseason, defender Chris Korb suffered yet another setback in a long string of them. Korb, who had injured his right ACL against New York City FC back in August 2015, was listed on the preseason roster for United. He was out of contract, after the team had decided not to pick up his option following a 2016 season that Korb spent recuperating. Korb was hoping to earn a contract offer by attending camp with United, the only team he had played for professionally.
Instead, he couldn’t make the camp. At that point, you might have excused the 29-year-old for thinking that he might never set foot on the field again as a professional soccer player.
“I thought I was going to try to make it to preseason this January,” Korb told B&RU earlier this week. “And I just wasn’t ready. I thought that was it.”
Fast forward a couple of months, and the story is completely different. That setback wasn’t the end of his career, and Korb finally got back onto the playing field for United, coming on as a second half substitute in the 4-0 loss at RFK Stadium to the Philadelphia Union. His return to action came 640 days after his initial injury.
“This week, I wasn’t planning on [getting into the game],” Korb said. “It was nice, because my parents were in town. It was just good.”
It’s been quite the roller coaster for Korb, who was originally drafted by United during the 2011 MLS SuperDraft.
The original injury occurred in United’s first ever game against NYCFC, in their first trip to play at Yankee Stadium. Korb was chasing down a ball in the second half, and went down in a heap near the end line. He was immediately replaced, and several days later had surgery. United pegged the time on the sideline for the fullback at 6-9 months. Standard for an ACL surgery.
Yet, Korb struggled in his recovery attempts in 2016, and eventually had to go under the knife again to help him heal. Despite spending some time with United during the season, he was never on the practice field with the Black-and-Red, which led to United declining his option this past offseason.
“We had him at 50/50,” United head coach Ben Olsen told B&RU on Tuesday about Korb’s odds of being back with the team after such a prolonged absence. “And that might have been optimistic. I don’t know where his head was at. To his credit, he kept chugging along, and believing that he could get back. Our training staff and doctors hung in there with him, the organization stuck by him.”
But after missing both trips of United’s preseason, Korb did manage to get back on the path to playing once again. At first, he spent time with United’s academy, working himself back into shape. Then, by the end of March, Korb was training with the first team. But he still had to do enough to earn a contract offer from United.
By that time though, Korb was finally of the belief that he would be able to resume his career, which was far from a given as recent as several months ago.
“Once I started to be able to run again, because that was a big thing, I couldn’t run, and I started training with the academy a couple of times a week, I started feeling better,” said Korb.
“But I wasn’t sure about things. I started playing with the first team, and kept feeling better and better. At that point, a couple of weeks in, once I started getting back into it, I felt that I could do this for sure,” he added.
On May 4th, United announced that they had re-signed Korb to a multi-year deal. Not only a sign of faith from the team, but a recognition by Olsen and his staff that Korb could contribute once again on the field for the Black-and-Red, such as he had during the first five years as a professional.
Korb immediately went on loan to the Richmond Kickers that weekend, starting and playing 71 minutes against FC Cincinnati. That included an assist for Korb, who delivered the helper for Fred Owusu Sekyere’s 7th minute goal with a cross from the left flank.
“It was a good stepping stone,” Korb said of the game with Richmond. “It was a good experience down there. Got  minutes down there, and got back into an official game.”
“The game in Richmond really helped him. It was good to see him out there,” added his coach, Olsen. “I have a soft spot for guys that spend a lot of time out and come back, and I think he has a new appreciation for [the game].”
That then set the scene for Saturday night. In an otherwise unpleasant game for United, Korb came on as a second half substitute for Kofi Opare. As he finally retook the field, 21 months after he originally injured his ACL.
A huge roar among the United faithful erupted, recognizing Korb’s long fight to get back on the field.
Of course, being as focused in helping United on the field, Korb didn’t quite hear the cheering. “I heard it a little bit. I was just concentrating on trying to get back into it,” said Korb. “I’ll rewatch the game, and I’ll definitely smile about that.”
“I’m happy for him as a person. I like him off the field a lot, and he works hard when he’s out here,” teammate Bobby Boswell said about Korb. “Injuries are tough. He had a bad run of it. It’s part of the business. Happy for him that he was able to get back.”
“We’re aware of what he can do, and what he brings to this team,” added Boswell. “He holds himself to a high standard, and we expect the same.”
Korb might once again feature this weekend for United, as they host the Chicago Fire, looking to rebound from two consecutive home losses. And while there might be more in store for him in the future, his sentiment after his first game back with United was simple.
“I’m happy to be back.”