Fullback Steven Beitashour dropped into the Toronto FC training centre Tuesday, his first visit since undergoing surgery for a damaged pancreas.
The timeline for his return is uncertain at this stage. "I don't think it's going to be real short, let's leave it at that,"' said coach Greg Vanney.
What is clear is that Beitashour is a lucky man, given the seriousness of an injury usually associated with car crashes and stabbings, not soccer games.
The 30-year-old defender went down hard when Impact defender Kyle Fisher, coming from distance, mistimed a challenge for the ball and thudded into the Toronto player's mid-section in first-half stoppage time of the Canadian Championship final June 27.
Fisher was yellow-carded on the play. Vanney believes the card should have been red, arguing that the same collision lower or higher on the body would have earned an ejection.
Beitashour finished out the game but felt sick the next morning. He called the team on the way to the training centre and was told to head to the emergency room immediately.
He was in surgery less than 12 hours later and remained in hospital for about a week.
If left untreated, there would have been serious consequences.
"And it's not a large time window, so it was important it be done quickly," Vanney said Tuesday following TFC's first training sessions since a 3-1 win July 5 in Orlando.
Doctors found a laceration in the pancreas, which as a result was excreting toxic contents into the body. They had to repair the laceration and stop the flow of toxins.
The pancreas is a long flattened gland located deep in the abdomen. it produces enzymes to help with food digestion and regulates blood sugar.
For a team that has already had to deal this season with an irregular heartbeat (defender Drew Moor), it was another unexpected and unusual health concern.
"My understanding in talking to Beta is the physicians have never actually heard of it in soccer," said Vanney. "They usually are car accidents or a stabbing or something like that, that it tends to get to the pancreas. But not an actual soccer injury or sports injury."
Teammates were happy to see Beitashour in person Tuesday.
"To see him in the good spirits that he was in, the optimism he had for what was next and what's to come, was good," said defender Eriq Zavaleta. "It's definitely something serious, it's definitely something that you don't wish upon anyone ... To see him back around the group was important for us and probably very important for him."
Beitashour, a California native who plays internationally for Iran where is parents were born, has been ever-present at right fullback/wingback since joining Toronto from Vancouver prior to the 2016 season.
The eight-year veteran is a low-maintenance professional who, along with fellow wingback Justin Morrow, has helped make Toronto's 3-5-2 formation a success.
Rookie Oyvind Alseth started the last two games in Beitashour's place, garnering generally positive reviews in his MLS debut. With the transfer window open again, Toronto has brought in Brazilian under-20 fullback Raul on trial.
Given Beitashour's injury, Vanney calls the right fullback spot "a position of interest in terms of getting us some depth."
"He plays the position and he plays it how we like," he added. "He's got an attacking-minded mentality, however he understands his defensive responsibility.
Toronto (11-3-5) is off until July 19 when it visits New York City FC (10-6-3).
Toronto is currently without Raheem Edwards, Jonathan Osorio, and Tosaint Ricketts (Canada), Armando Cooper (Panama) and Justin Morrow (U.S.), all at the Gold Cup.
Vanney is likely to lose U.S. captain Michael Bradley and striker Jozy Altidore to the CONCACAF championship once the knockout round starts July 19.
Star striker Sebastian Giovinco was due back later Tuesday after using the time off to return to Italy.