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Will Packwood Eyes Birmingham City Return

Eleven months after sustaining a career-threatening injury, Massachusetts native Will Packwood is on the verge of returning to his English Championship club. Brian Sciaretta reports.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
December 10, 2013
11:22 AM
ONE YEAR AGO, Will Packwood’s soccer career was on the upswing.

Despite being just 19 years old, the Massachusetts native had recently broken into the Birmingham City starting lineup in the highly competitive English Championship. And thanks to his steady performances in defense, Packwood’s dream of playing for the United States in the 2013 under-20 World Cup seemed within reach.

And then everything fell apart.

In the 65th minute of a January 5th FA Cup tilt against Leeds United, Packwood jumped to clear a cross and landed awkwardly. His left leg buckled, breaking both his tibia and fibula. It was a gruesome injury that required several surgeries and jeopardized his career.

Fortunately for Packwood his recovery has gone better than expected. Despite the terrible breaks, he did not sustain serious ligament damage and was able to resume training toward the end of the summer. Birmingham City still believed in Packwood and extended his contract for a year; by September he was playing reserve games.

In October, Birmingham City sent Packwood on loan to League 2 Bristol Rovers, where he immediately became a fixture in the starting lineup. He was named the man of the match in his first two games, and his loan subsequently was extended to January.

For Packwood, it has been great to transition back to first team soccer with Bristol Rovers but he admits that his priority is to complete his recovery so that he can return to Birmingham City.

“I played some reserve team games for Birmingham City but league football is a bit different,” Packwood told American Soccer Now. “That’s the reason I went out loan. It was a really good feeling when I played to know I made it back to proper games. Obviously at the end of the day the goal is Birmingham City and returning to the Championship. Things have been going well on a personal level. I’m very pleased.”

Physically he is able to compete without pain. Before games and practices there are certain training regimens he now performs as a result of the injury but during the actual contests he does not notice any discomfort.

Packwood, now 20, is reluctant to compare his current level of play with his pre-injury form.

“It’s really difficult to say until you’ve been challenged at that level,” Packwood said, referring to the more robust competition in the Championship. “At the moment my job is to play League 2 football and do as well as I can. I feel good while I’ve been playing and I’ve had some good performances.”

Packwood is set to return to Birmingham City next month when the loan expires and there are strong signs that the Blues are pleased with his progress. Bristol Rovers requested that Packwood be allowed to play in its FA Cup game last Saturday against Crawley Town but Birmingham City rejected the request. Should Packwood have played, it would have “cup-tied” him to Bristol for the entirety of the tournament; Birmingham City want to keep Packwood eligible for its campaign.

Bristol Rovers manager John Ward is aware that having Packwood even for a limited time this season has been a bonus.

“Birmingham have watched pretty much every game he has played for us,” Ward said. “So they are following him with real consideration. I get the impression he is good enough to step up and move on when Birmingham City feel the time is right for him to do that.”

“He is a good player and he is going to grow into a very good player," Ward added.

Being forced to sit out for the bulk of 2013, watch a ton of games, and battle to overcome a serious injury could end up benefitting Packwood in the long run.

“It certainly gives you a sense of perspective that this could all be taken away pretty easily,” Packwood said. “I was really close to having that happen. I now have the perspective that you have to take the opportunities you’re given because you never know what is going to happen, good or bad. You just have to keep going as far as you can, while you can. It’s been a massively up and down year. But that’s football, and that’s life.”

“It won’t be forgotten anytime soon.”

What do you think of Packwood's rapid recovery? Do you think he has long-term potential with the U.S. national team? Share your thoughts below.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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