Injuries are an unfortunate part of soccer. Some players can go an entire career without suffering a major injury, but others are not as lucky.
One of the not-so-lucky ones was Stuart Holden, once one of the brightest US talents before a series of devastating injuries all but ended his career. The same fate has befallen many players before him. Fortunately, established players affected by injury can usually regain their starting spot even if they miss several months.
Youth soccer players, however, are not always afforded the same luxury. In youth soccer, academy teams can be cutthroat. If a young player misses an entire year of his development because of an injury, then he can easily be surpassed by one of his teammates and left in the dust. It is hard for many players to make up that ground. This is why many were worried about what would happen to USMNT youth prospect Will Packwood after he went down with a major leg injury on January 5, 2013.
Will Packwood was born on May 21, 1993 in Concord, Massachusetts. His main position is defensive back, and he sometimes plays defensive midfielder. At the age of 14 he joined the Birmingham City youth academy and rose through the ranks to earn a two-year professional contract in July 2011. During that same time he progressed through the US youth teams, playing for their U-17, U-18, and U-20 sides until he earned his current spot on the U-23 roster.
In addition to his youth international experience, Packwood also earned one senior call-up on March 5, 2014 when the USMNT played Ukraine.
On January 5, 2013 Will Packwood collided with Leeds’ striker Luciano Becchio during a routine aerial challenge, landing awkwardly and breaking his tibia and fibula. After getting stretchered off the field, Packwood faced an ugly 9-12 month recovery time—a timeline that often sounds a death knell to a defender trying to develop himself into a premier defensive back. After only 8 months, however, Will returned, proving his doubters wrong. Some speculate that his speedy recovery was encouraged when he received a one-year extension while he was in rehabilitation.
After returning from his injury, Will played eight games for Bristol Rovers on loan to regain his form. He debuted for Birmingham City on January 25, and in his first game back he won “man of the match,” and subsequently played the rest of the season as one of Birmingham City’s first-choice center backs. After playing only one game for Birmingham City in the 2014—2015 and due to limited first-team opportunities season, he was sent on loan to Colchester United from which he recently returned after an injury plagued few months.
The loan to Colchester United was enacted in the hopes that Packwood would receive the necessary playing time to further develop his skills. But he only managed 67 minutes on his debut before going down with a groin injury and spending the rest of his loan on the bench.
While it is clear that Birmingham City sees Will Packwood as a valuable talent they need to hold onto, a recent influx of players and Packwood’s injury problems have knocked him down the pecking order. It has been difficult for him to get time on Birmingham City’s first team. Eight months without playing a competitive game has clearly hurt his development.
A fit Packwood is also a a valuable asset to the USMNT. At 6’3’’ he is strong in the air, and comfortable with the ball at the feet. He is also a versatile defender.
After missing almost a year recovering from that devastating leg injury, Will has little time to spare. This is crunch time for his development. Will Packwood has shown that he has the fortitude and strength to regain his starting spot. Of course, there is no guarantee that he will succeed. European soccer leagues are littered with American players who were never able to fulfill their potential.
To become a starter, Will Packwood will need a mixture of persistence–and luck. Another major injury, or an extended period of time on the bench, could spell disaster for his career. Will Packwood become another American success story, or will he fade into obscurity? US Soccer fans hope to see him in the starting line-up. Soon.