A Hard Pill To Swallow: Pasquotti On His Injury And An ‘Uneasy’ Feeling
It’s now been over half a year since Nico Pasquotti suffered a long-term injury in a Canadian Premier League match against Pacific FC, with the forward now entering the final months of what has been an formidable rehabilitation process.
One of the more established forwards in the fledgling domestic league, Pasquotti had made 41 appearances for Cavalry FC overall by at the time of his injury, scoring five goals and making eight assists for the Alberta-based side.
Last September, he was looking lively against Pacific FC in the club’s first match of The Island Games’ group stage, dancing around the pitch and causing big problems for The Tridents early on.
It was around the 22nd minute of the match when Pasquotti went in for a tackle, poking the ball with his left foot and planting with his right. The player he collided with took his momentum the opposite way as he planted that right foot down, and his cleat got stuck in the artificial turf at UPEI. That was all it took.
I went down, and I felt something. I didn’t know what it was. If you’ve never torn your ACL before, you don’t know what it feels like. I’ve had many knocks before where you get up and shake it off, that type of thing, so I went off to the sidelines. I kept telling myself it was nothing, you feel fine, you’re good, and then when I went back out there I knew something wasn’t right. I felt a little bit uneasy. When I went to take that throw-in, I took it and felt like ‘yeah, that wasn’t right. There’s something bigger going on’, and I knew right then and there that I should take myself out.Nico Pasquotti
As he made his way to the sidelines, Pasquotti couldn’t shake the feeling that something was seriously off. The doctor who examined him at half-time, however, told him his ACL was fine and that it was likely a sprained knee. With that, Pasquotti remained pitch-side for the second half, cheering on his teammates as they went on to win 3-1. The high of the win, however, wouldn’t last.
With his knee still feeling pretty bad the next day, the team brought in another doctor to the hotel, and they sent Pasquotti for an x-ray. The results came back the next day, revealing some bony bruising. More worrisome, however, was that the doctor felt a bit more ‘play’ from his ACL on physical examination. It was time for an MRI, for which the results wouldn’t be available for a few days.
When Pasquotti got the call, Cavalry FC were at the airport ready to return home. The Alberta-based team had succumbed to losses against the Halifax Wanderers and Forge FC, eliminating the side from the tournament. The doctor confirmed the ACL tear based on the imaging report, but couldn’t tell the severity of his meniscal injury due to the quality of the MRI itself. It was a call Pasquotti had been dreading.
So, that was a hard pill to swallow. Like I said before, no athlete ever wants to hear that they’ve torn their ACL. It’s the last thing you want to hear. It was hard, and I always feared it because my Dad tore his ACL, my Aunt, my Uncle, my brother who is a year and a half older than me, he was on the U-17 Canadian national team and in the Whitecaps Residency program, and when he was 17 he tore his ACL, and then six months later he tore his other ACL.Nico Pasquotti
As he awaiting what was to be a long flight home, Pasquotti’s first thoughts didn’t go to contract difficulties or what the injury may mean for his career: he just called his family, told them the news, and let it all sink in.
There’s nothing you can do at that moment. The last thing you want to do is start worrying about contract. It is what it is, and I let it just sink in, all the feels. I didn’t want to focus any of my attention on that stuff at that time. We had a long flight ahead of us, there’s lots of time to do talking and thinking on the flight. It was a rough few days. I got to Calgary and the next day I went back home to Lethbridge and spent some time with my family and all that. It was not very fun.Nico Pasquotti
While that seems like quite an understatement, Pasquotti simplifies the result of his tackle as being ‘the nature of the game’: if the tackle had gone a bit differently, or if it wasn’t for the artificial turf, he might have been fine. It’s a move that any player would have been likely to make in the same way.
It wasn’t anything I could have done necessarily to avoid that. As an athlete, I try to make sure my body, my workouts, my training in the offseason and during the season, to be fit enough that it would never happen. You know, that’s just the way it goes. We put ourselves at risk every time we go out on the field and that’s the risk we take.Nico Pasquotti
The Island Games concluded with Forge FC retaining its title. Looking back, Pasquotti believes that Cavalry FC had assembled a strong team for the bubble-based tournament, and feels he could have made a difference in the club’s two final matches of the season if he wasn’t injured.
Prior to the group stage, when Oliver Minatel suffered a long-term injury of his own in a match against York United, Pasquotti was called upon to fill in a number ten role. It’s a position he frequented during his youth career, and one he feels that he adapted to well during his time in Charlottetown.
That’s when things really started to click: I was getting lots more on the ball, I was becoming more involved, and I could play both sides of the ball a little bit more. Then, obviously, the injury…that was not the way I wanted it to end. I thought I had a pretty good tournament, and as it went on I felt I got better and better. Obviously, too bad, but I can still take some positives from it.Nico Pasquotti
It was just over a month after his injury when Pasquotti’s surgery at the South Health Campus Hospital in Calgary took place, just three days before his 25th birthday. Ever the optimist, Pasquotti took the opportunity to thank the fans for their support as his rehabilitation journey entered its next chapter.
Even before his surgery, Pasquotti could see that his quad muscle had already reduced in size, noting that the process wasn’t just about his ligament healing: it was about regaining the strength lost in the entire leg, too.
He described it as an intense process where one truly has to start from the ground level.
You go from doing everything yourself just before surgery, you can get up, you can go to the bathroom, you can grab a glass of water, you can do everything you can do by yourself, to the next day not even being able to lift your leg off of the couch. Not being able to get from Point A to Point B without crutches and pain, it’s so hard to describe to somebody who hasn’t been through it. If you talk to anyone who has been through it, they’ll tell you that it’s hard, and it’s tough, and it takes a lot out of you in those first couple of weeks.Nico Pasquotti
Pasquotti has come a long way since then, remaining diligent and dedicated to his rehabilitation process: he’s been working with Lethbridge-based physiotherapist Niko Saler, where he’s been undergoing sessions five days a week. The process hasn’t let up, with Pasquotti’s Instagram showing solid progress as he nears the final months three months or so of his rehabilitation journey.
Niko’s doing some stuff that isn’t as common in physiotherapy, and I just really follow his protocol and his program. It makes everything so much easier for me. I wouldn’t be anywhere without his protocol and his guidance, and I’ve really just leaned on him for everything and that has made the whole process a lot easier.Nico Pasquotti
One thing that hasn’t made the process easier was being left on the outside looking in by the CPL: when the Canadian Premier League had revealed its 2021 Salary Cap information last month, Pasquotti publicly asked the league about compensation for injured payers or coverage for rehabilitation. He did not get an answer.
To that end, Pasquotti notes that the league has an insurance policy that allowed him $2,500 for physiotherapy overall, most of which he had used up by the time he suffered his injury. Cavalry FC helped cover some costs too, but he has been mostly on his own since returning from The Island Games on an expiring contract.
In any sport, for an athlete, it makes no sense to me that there is no worker’s compensation for athletes in Canada. I’m putting my body on the line every day, as my job, and if I get injured – which I did – my rehabilitation is considered to be 9-12 months to get back to sport, to return to play. That’s the estimated timeline. That doesn’t take into account the rehab costs as well as money loss because of being unable to work. It blows my mind that it’s not a thing for athletes.Nico Pasquotti
Another hard pill to swallow is that players in the Canadian Premier League certainly aren’t gold spoon athletes: many are making minimum wage, and over the past two seasons before a minimum salary was introduced, Pasquotti says that was certainly not the case for many.
He understand it’s a new league, but thinks the balance between the owners covering their investment and looking after the players isn’t quite there yet.
There’s got to be a fine line where you make sure the players are taken care of day-in and day-out. We’re getting paid below minimum wage and expected to be a professional athlete, and literally train, eat, sleep, recover, play, it’s a lot. The last two seasons I’ve been working part-time at Sport Chek. How do you, as a league, say that these are professional athletes that people want to be role models for young kids, and then buddy’s working over at Sport Chek in the evening after training?Nico Pasquotti
During his recovery, Pasquotti has recently been working as a project manager for his father’s home-building company in Lethbridge, which he’s very familiar with. It’s helped keep him occupied while he’s not doing rehab, so he’s not stuck thinking about things like what’s next in his footballing career.
To that end, Nico owns that it was his decision to sign a one-year contract: while he wasn’t offered a longer one, it would have been his preferred choice regardless. Like many CPL athletes, he was hoping to use the league as a stepping stone for playing opportunities overseas, and he wanted the flexibility that a one-year contract offers.
I was talking to a few other clubs outside of the CPL after the first season, and then just after I got injured, clubs did know that I got injured and there’s still the hopes of moving to another level. Obviously, if you’re on a two year contract you can’t get out of that contract and move up unless you’re bought out, and as we know that’s not very common in our league. It could become common, but right now it’s not. That’s why I viewed a one year contract as okay. It is what it is. But in the event of an injury, it sucks.Nico Pasquotti
At the present, Pasquotti’s physiotherapist estimates his full return to fitness date to be in July. While the Canadian Premier League season is tentatively slated for late May, there’s no telling what may happen due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. However the timeline works out, Nico expects to be back to the field this summer:
If the season gets pushed back, that would be okay for that in that it’d work better for me. I fully expect to be back to full fitness and full health, playing the season.Nico Pasquotti
Where the 25-year-old will be playing remains to be seen: he’d be Cavalry FC’s top appearance-leader currently rostered with the side if he returns, having enjoyed two strong seasons with the team prior to his injury. He appeared to have been adopting well to a number ten role filling in for Oliver Minatel (who also has yet to be re-signed), and says that he’s enjoyed playing under the Spruce Meadows ownership for the last two years.
That being said, undergoing a long rehabilitation process after being left largely on his own is a sour reminder that the league is still very much in a growing phase, and player securities aren’t where they ought to be.
Through the injury process and that whole bit, and the way the league is set up in the sense that you’re not necessarily taken care of in the event of an injury, it leaves – not a sour taste in my mouth, but if you know what I mean – It’s just not right. I guess that’s what I’m uneasy about. At the end of the day, I’ve got to do what’s best for me and my career. Whether that means I’m back at Cavalry or somewhere else, then it is what it is. I’ve got to do what’s best for me, and my goal for this year is to be back at the level I was at, and I’m going to get there. I’ve been putting in all the work that I can to get there, and that’s my goal.Nico Pasquotti
With salaries being what they are in the domestic league, players doing what’s best for them remains a realistic sentiment that has been recently echoed from many athletes, be it Nik Ledgerwood touching on the realities of contract renewals or athletes like Luca Gasparotto and Dylan Carreiro retiring early.
Yeah, and that’s the hard part about it. You’re going to get people coming in on one year deals trying to revive their career or jumpstart it, but nobody’s going to want to stick around if you’re only going to get paid minimum wage.Nico Pasquotti
Whatever happens next, Pasquotti has fond memories of his time with Cavalry FC so far: making his professional debut remains one of his top moments, though scoring a 95th minute matchwinner against Forge brings a smile to his face, too.
That whole first season was awesome, it was so cool. I really wish COVID wouldn’t have happened, as does everyone. I would have loved to have that second season back and do it like we did the first season.Nico Pasquotti
With the 25-year-old forward expecting to be back to full fitness by July 2021, it’ll be interesting to see where he lands next: he’s certainly open to a return to Cavalry FC, but doesn’t seem to be closing the doors on any opportunities elsewhere. On the club’s end, it appears that Cavalry FC is keen to wait until he’s back to fitness before any contract offer comes to fruition.
While there are many uncertainties in the football world, one thing that is beyond doubt is that Pasquotti would be a welcome addition to any CPL team, though who he’ll be taking his trademark long throw-ins for remains to be seen.
As Pasquotti put it, that’s the nature of the game.