After winning the USL Pro Division rookie of the year award last summer, Charleston Battery midfielder Jose Cuevas might appear to have nothing left to prove.
That’s not what Cuevas thinks.
Cuevas came into the Battery’s preseason camp determined to show teams in Major League Soccer that they made a mistake not offering him a contract before this season.
Cuevas, who spent time in three MLS training camps before joining the Battery in February, was already in mid-season form, scoring eight times, including a goal against the MLS’ Chicago Fire in the Carolina Challenge Cup.
But two days before the Battery’s season opener against Richmond, Cuevas injured his ankle during a training session.
Despite limping around, Cuevas decided to play against the Kickers. Then, just seconds before halftime, he pulled his hamstring chasing down a loose ball.
“I think when you get an injury, especially an ankle injury or something like that, you tend to compensate for it when you’re playing,” Cuevas said. “I put too much pressure on my other leg and when I went after the ball, I felt something pop. The worst part was that the referee blew his whistle as I was going for the ball, so there no was reason to go after the ball at that point.”
Cuevas was sidelined for a month.
“It was probably the most frustrating time of my life,” Cuevas said. “I’d never had an injury like that before where I’d been out that long. My leg would feel better and I’d start to train a little bit and then have another setback. It was a long, long month without soccer.”
Cuevas returned to the lineup on May 14 in the Battery’s 1-0 loss to Charlotte, but the month away from the game had taken its toll on his timing and conditioning.
“Jose is one of those guys that just needs to play every game,” said Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser. “He’s so technical and so fit that if he misses a training session or game it’s going to show.”
It wasn’t until Tuesday night’s U.S. Open match against the San Jose Earthquakes that Cuevas said he felt near 100 percent. Against the Earthquakes, Cuevas showed flashes of what made him a first-team USL Pro Division selection and the most valuable player from last year’s championship game. Cuevas’ free kick in the 73rd minute set up Colin Falvey’s game-winning header.
“I’m probably another week away from getting totally match fit,” Cuevas said. “I went 90 full minutes against San Jose and felt good at the end of the match. Now, I want to put a couple of matches like that together so I know I’m all the way back.”
After scoring eight goals and adding six assists for the Battery in 2012, Cuevas spent time training with three MLS teams — Seattle Sounders, New York Red Bull and the Earthquakes — trying to earn a contract.
Things just never seemed to work out. Cuevas said he won’t be satisfied until he makes it to the MLS.
“I want to play at the highest level,” Cuevas said. “I want to play in the MLS. That’s why the game with San Jose was so important for me. I wanted to show them what they were missing.”