Four games into the 2018 season, Boston University men’s soccer junior forward and captain Matt McDonnell was in position to craft an All-American campaign before a protracted injury sent his season off the rails.
In four games he had four goals, and in the fifth game of the season against Dartmouth College he collected his sixth goal in the 78th minute, but his foot collided with a Dartmouth defender and the goal post after the ball hit the net, causing his foot to bend in a “weird” way.
Immediately after scoring, McDonnell was replaced by a substitute and would remain sidelined the rest of the year with torn ligaments in his left foot, despite early hopes that he suffered only a minor injury.
McDonnell, now a senior, said the injury didn’t seem serious, but it lingered just long enough to keep him out for the season.
“It wasn’t anything too horrendous,” McDonnell said. “It was a goal-scoring play, but I just came out and unfortunately, that was it for the season. I tried to walk it off and I just fell after ten yards. But I didn’t know it was going to be a season-ending injury at the time.”
His six goals and 12 points led the Terriers despite him missing the majority of the season, which ended in heartbreak for the Terriers, who would go on to lose in the Patriot League quarterfinals in a penalty shootout at Nickerson Field.
McDonnell said the rehab process wasn’t too strenuous. He had a “rigorous” program with Hollie Walusz, one of the head athletic trainers with BU, and said his initial goal was to be ready to play in the next game, but the injury proved to be more serious than he originally thought.
Unfortunately for McDonnell, the injury nagged on, and he continued to miss games. As the season rolled on, McDonnell’s foot began to heal and he wanted to play in the Patriot League quarterfinal, but he was still unable to take the field for that final game of the 2018 season.
His foot did not require any surgery, just a lot of rehab, which McDonnell said made his left foot stronger than ever and almost as strong as his dominant right foot.
Heading into the 2019 season, McDonnell, wanted to replicate the beginning of the previous season and make a deep run into the Patriot League. He summed it up with a simple phrase:
“Go out with a bang.”
The season started out slow for both the Terriers and McDonnell, as the team went four games without a goal, but in the fifth game of the season at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, McDonnell picked up the team’s first goal of the season when he converted from the penalty spot in the 78th minute.
McDonnell identified growing pains as the reason for the team’s slow start.
“It’s starting to click. We had a lot of new guys, almost 50 percent of our roster is new from last fall,” McDonnell said. “It takes time, I think now for myself and other guys on the team are feeling more comfortable.”
Now, with four games left to play, the three-time Patriot League offensive player of the week has already eclipsed career-highs in goals, points, and shots on goal, despite the quiet start.
As the season has progressed, McDonnell has found his form form the 2018 season. He now has scored seven goals and 14 points, good for second and third in the conference, respectively. In his last five games he has scored five goals with all of them coming against Patriot League opponents, which puts him first in the conference in goals against Patriot League opponents.
McDonnell’s reemergence as an offensive force comes at a favorable time for the Terriers, who have clawed their way back into contention for a spot in the Patriot League tourney. The Terriers (3-9-1, 2-3 Patriot League) have won two consecutive conference contests after starting the season with a dismal 0-9-1 record and now stand at fifth place in the conference.
Despite playing games in all four years, McDonnell was granted a medical redshirt year for his lost season by the NCAA, which means his college soccer career will continue for one more year.
His plans are not finalized in terms of where he is taking a fifth year, but he knows that soccer is in his future.
“I’m not exactly sure of what I’m doing yet, but I’m planning to play one more year of college soccer hopefully,” McDonnell said. “I have aspirations to play professionally, if it works out, so that’s a door I’d like to explore.”