After almost four months on the sidelines, Khiry Shelton is back.
Our first-ever MLS SuperDraft pick played 32 minutes in NYCFC's 3-2 Hudson River Derby victory over the Red Bulls, marking a triumphant return to Yankee Stadium in his first action since April 14th.
As one of the first players on the roster back in 2015, Shelton has quite literally been through it all with New York City. Through all of the highs and lows, he's kept a level head and pushed himself and his teammates onward. But has this injury been his toughest hurdle to overcome yet?
"I've been through worse," said the winger. "After I have a setback, it's like, it's a bummer. I'm bummed out when I find out the news that I have a setback that day. The next day, I have to be like, 'okay, back to square one again, let's go.'
"You can't get down on yourself, that's just going to make it worse. I just had to keep my mind fresh and know that I'm coming back. This isn't a season-ending or career-ending injury."
Like so much else in our sport, the battle with injuries is often won off the field. The long road back to health is filled with fitness tests, and every setback is something that makes that road even longer. Khiry's commitment to fighting back paid off, and after passing his final fitness milestones, he's feeling good.
"My body’s good," he said. "You know, I had to go through fitness and all this stuff to be able to play today. So I passed all that stuff, and I felt amazing today. I feel really good right now."
With his injury behind him, Khiry came into the Hudson River Derby in the 58th minute, replacing rookie attacker Jonathan Lewis and providing some extra attacking spark down the wing. He was a consistent threat and found himself in dangerous areas during his shift, and the chemistry he's built up with David Villa over the years clearly hasn't gone anywhere.
But to hear Khiry describe his play on the day is to hear a player who knows his job is far from done this season. Getting back on the pitch is the first step, and now it's all about getting up to speed. On the biggest of stages, his mentality is what he trusts to make the difference.
“I didn’t think too much about it, honestly," he noted. "I didn’t think it was a bigger game. It’s another game, it’s a derby game. Some people will say it’s a bigger game, but for me, coming back from injury, this was my first game back, so I just do what I do.
“I was able to do a little bit of stuff, and I didn’t do some things right, but it happens. I just stay positive."
That positivity was infectious for NYCFC in their Derby victory. Within 20 minutes of Khiry coming onto the field, City had erased a 2-1 deficit and taken the lead over their rivals. Something just clicked.
“When we were on the field," he remembers, "around the 80th minute, we started winning second balls and stuff like that. You could feel it in the team, just some type of vibe, you can say, goes through the whole team.
"You get confidence and everyone’s talking, and everyone plays a part."
Khiry certainly played a part in his first action in four months, and he's planning on playing bigger and bigger parts in Patrick Vieira's squad as the season continues. It won't be long before the squad is back in action against the LA Galaxy this weekend, and as the playoff race heats up, Khiry knows exactly what it's going to take for him and his teammates to accomplish their ultimate goals.
He explained: “Personally, I’ve got to come to training and give 100% every training session, and I’ve got to push people as well, because that’s how we’re going to get better, and I know everyone’s going to do the same.
"I think, as a team, it’s just: push each other. If we’re going to reach the goals we want to reach, we need to do that. We want to make the playoffs and go as far as we can, so it’s just taking it day by day, honestly, and giving 100% each day."