There was a point last spring when Charleston Battery striker Omar Salgado thought his professional soccer career was over.
After suffering a fractured bone in his right foot for the third time, Salgado feared the worst. At the age of 19, the promising young soccer star from Mexico wasn't sure he could bounce back from his latest injury.
"The last two years were very difficult emotionally for me," said Salgado, the No. 1 pick in Major League Soccer's 2011 SuperDraft by the Vancouver Whitecaps. "There were times when it looked like everything was going to be OK and then I'd have another setback,
"I'd break it again. One break is not so bad, but to break your foot in the same place three times is hard to deal with. I'm not sure what I would have done if there had been a fourth break."
Vancouver surprised many around the MLS when it selected Salgado with the No. 1 overall pick in 2011 instead of going with the more established Darlington Nagbe. While Nagbe was the polished player, the Whitecaps believed that the gangly 6-4 Salgado had a bigger upside. He was just 17 when he was drafted by the Whitecaps.
"There's pressure when you're a first-round pick, but there's not any more pressure than I would put on myself," Salgado said.
He played in 14 games with the Whitecaps as a rookie, scoring one goal.
In 2012, he played in seven games for Vancouver before getting called up to the United States' U-20 national team that summer.
And that's when he broke his foot the first time.
In a match against Uruguay, an aggressive defender made a sliding tackle and caught Salgado's foot, fracturing it.
"I knew it was bad the second it happened," Salgado said.
Salgado had a screw inserted into his foot during surgery. After rehabilitation, Salgado returned to the practice field. In October of 2012, he broke the foot again and went through the same process.
He tried another comeback last April, but broke his foot for a third time.
"Missing the entire MLS season last year was probably the toughest time for me," Salgado said.
Salgado found a new doctor and this time a bigger and more durable screw was inserted into his foot. It has made all the difference.
"The surgery went great the last time, the doctors did a great job," Salgado said. "The screw before had been moving in my bone so every time it moved, I would re-break the bone, which is probably why it was painful to play."
For the first time in two years, Salgado was healthy entering the preseason. He was ready to have an impact in the Whitecaps' lineup, but found the roster loaded with talented attacking forwards. Playing time was going to be limited and Salgado knew he needed to get on the field. The coaching staff told him he had a choice - stay in Vancouver and hope he got on the field or go to Charleston and get game experience.
"I needed to get fit and I needed to get some games," Salgado said. "It was a no-brainer for me. I wanted to come down to Charleston and get on the field as quickly as possible."
Less than 12 hours after stepping off a flight from Vancouver, Salgado was back on the field in the second half of the Battery's season opener against Orlando City last weekend. Salgado, who has trained with English Premier League teams Everton and Fulham FC over the past three years, didn't care where he was playing. He was finally healthy and back on the field.
Salgado showed flashes of what made him the No. 1 overall pick, recording an assist on the Battery's only goal in 45 minutes of action.
"It was such a huge relief to be back on the field and play in a game that mattered," Salgado said. "My foot feels good. I wasn't even thinking about it when I was out there, which is a good sign."
Salgado doesn't know how long he'll be in Charleston and he's not worried about it. He said he's match fit and ready to help the Battery win. The rest will take care of itself.
"People forget that Omar is still very young," Vancouver head coach Carl Robinson told The Vancouver Sun recently. "For people to say it's a make-or-break year for him is very harsh because he's been out for 18 months with injuries.
"I'm not putting that much pressure on Omar. I want him to get back to enjoying his football and playing with a smile on his face."