PORTLAND, ORE. — From those dark days lived last fall, Minnesota United veteran defender Brent Kallman found purpose and time, lots of time.
Kallman was suspended in September after he tested positive for a performance-enhancing substance. He missed the season’s final five games as part of a 10-game suspension, using those weeks banished from team and teammates to have hip surgery he had put off twice.
Kallman soon began rehabilitation after the operation, which reshaped his hip’s ball-and-socket joint and stitched a torn labrum. He also worked on conditioning his body.
Mobile again and more fit than maybe ever, he has rejoined his teammates for preseason training until he resumes his suspension when the regular season starts March 1 at Portland.
“This is the best I’ve seen him look since he’s been here,” said United coach Adrian Heath, who’s starting his fourth MLS season with Kallman.
The Woodbury native apologized to family, friends, the team and teammates and coaches past and present as well as MLS and its players when he was suspended and fined 20% of his salary. He took responsibility for a product he said he took for about a month last summer. He did so without consulting United’s medical and training staffs because he thought it would speed his recovery from what he called a “rough spot” with injuries.
“It was a dark couple weeks for me there,” Kallman said. “The rehab, it gave me something to focus on, get locked in. It was good. I was able to get in the gym, get my mind focused and get right back to work. Obviously with the suspension and stuff, it made too much sense to get the surgery done. The timing was right.
“All offseason I’ve been able to work with our training staff, not only my hip but other lingering injuries I’ve had. It has made a big difference.”
Kallman was designated a substitute in the Loons’ 4-2 preseason victory Wednesday at Portland as Heath got veteran defender Ike Opara some MLS game action. Opara was in the starting lineup with reserves who entered en masse in Sunday’s second half during a 2-2 draw with New England in a four-team tournament.
“I’ve been able to build my body up, and I feel really good so far,” he said. “I’m moving the most pain-free I’ve moved in like three or four years.”
Kallman and Kevin Molino are the only remaining Loons who were on United’s roster for its first MLS game three years ago.
Now 29, Kallman also is part of a center-back crew that includes starters Opara and Michael Boxall as well as newly signed Jose Aja.
“He’s really, really fit,” Heath said. “That’s evident for all to see. Physically, all his numbers, his intense running is the best since we’ve been here. We thought he was going to be a while before he’d really be able to play for the first team, but I would have no qualms putting him in. It’ll be a big plus for us because he’s certainly better than ever.”
Kallman wasn’t — and won’t be — allowed to train with his team or attend games during his suspension. He watched United’s final four regular-season games during a playoff race and a first-round home loss to L.A. Galaxy from afar. Included was a scoreless draw at Portland in which Lawrence Olum replaced injured Opara at center back at halftime because Kallman wasn’t there.
“It was hard watching, especially the Portland game because that would have been me sliding in there,” he said. “A really important game, you know? So it was painful, but I put myself in that position, so I was just dealing with it.”
He’s now able to train again with teammates until month’s end and play preseason games. Each is a reminder of what he has lost for the duration of his suspension, which will end in time for an April 11 home game against L.A. Galaxy.
“Every offseason it seems like you realize how much you miss it,” Kallman said. “This one was even more so than the other ones. Just training with the guys now, I was ready to get back, get with them again and start training again. You appreciate it 100 percent.”