Orlando City defender Kevin Alston has had a roller coaster of a career.
Alston was drafted in 2009 out of Indiana by the New England Revolution and took the league by storm. In his second season, he was a starter for the MLS All-Star team that took on Manchester United in Houston, and he continued to start almost every game for the Revs for the next two years until the beginning of the 2013 season, when he was diagnosed with a rare but treatable form of Leukemia.
After going through treatment and getting cleared medically, he came back to soccer and continues his career as a player, as well as dabbling in a few other ventures. I got a chance to speak with Kevin last week on my radio show, the Community Sports Report, about his career and the ups and downs that he has faced.
How hard did your 2013 cancer diagnosis hit you?
Kevin Alston: That’s just life. That’s how life hits you sometimes. Coming out of college, things were going pretty well. I was named an All-Star my second season, had a couple (international) call-ups that same year, but they didn’t go as I planned due to injury. Still, things were good and we had some ups and downs those first couple of years in New England, so obviously we would have liked to have been better back then. I was going into the 2013 year and it was a big year for the team and a couple games in I found out that I had cancer April 1, and obviously it was a big shock. As a player in your career you never expect something like that to hit you and that it’s going to be you. You see cancer all the time, but you don’t really expect it to be you.
What kind of support did you receive from New England and MLS as a whole following your diagnosis?
KA: New England was amazing. The support, first off, outside of New England, when I announced it, around the league you just saw how much of a tight-knit community it actually is and all the messages and the fans that reached out, it was unbelievable. I never expected that. I didn’t think it would send waves like that. New England, they did a lot for me. They were supportive of the entire time. They helped me through the process. Helped me get they best doctors that I could. I had my family out there almost immediately.
Top to bottom the support was great and the organizations and the fans, I remember they had a moment of cheering and banners in the 30th minute, because my number was 30 at the time. They just did a lot for me and that really helped me through the process because when you’re down in a dark place like that, you really look towards the positives and you try to keep your mind off of all the negative stuff and focusing on that and being around the team and being around my teammates really helped push me through the process.
I grinded, I told myself I would be back and it was a waiting game for me to wait it out and make sure I did all the medical stuff, but just to get back to playing fitness and that strength that I wanted to be at in order to compete. It was a journey and a process but I’m fortunate to be playing again and it’s been ups and downs but I live for the grind. Soccer be my life. It won’t always be what you want it to be but I love it still and I love it day in and day out and I love competing.
What was the move to Orlando City like in 2016?
KA: I remember when we first came here with New England and we played in Orlando and it was like, ‘Wow! This atmosphere is crazy!’ When they announced they were getting a team in Orlando, I didn’t know how well the city would latch on to the concept, because you see they’ve done teams in Florida before and they didn’t work out. The Magic, although they weren’t doing that well, were still a well-known team in the league, so you really didn’t know.
I didn’t really know much about Orlando in general until I came down here and then you see it day in and day out it’s crazy what this city does for the team and what the team does for the city and how they together latch onto each other and it’s just exploded. The club, since I’ve been here, has been top-notch. Top to bottom, you see it in the organization, you see it behind the scenes. It’s a family. That’s the biggest thing I’ve noticed is that it’s truly a family feel. What they do in the community, the way everybody interacts with each other, there’s no real ‘I don’t know who that person is,’ you talk to everybody and everyone is friendly and it’s very cohesive.
What are your career ambitions after soccer?
KA: Improv. Not as a comedian. Doing improv, but not on the stand-up comedian side, more on the acting side. I’ve been taking classes at SAK Comedy Lab to help.
While Alston made 24 appearances for Orlando last year, he has yet to appear so far this season, due in part to unfortunately timed hamstring injuries in the preseason and again during an Orlando City B game a few weeks ago, and he now finds himself in a deep pool of fullbacks.
Here’s to hoping the defender works his way back onto the pitch for Jason Kreis’ side soon, and that it provides a boost to the player and the club alike.