Tue | Jan 22, 2019

Ja footballer O'Brian White battles illness

Published:Sunday | September 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Seattle Sounders' O'Brian White (right) of Jamaica tries to fend off Houston Dynamo's Bobby Boswell in the first half of an MLS game at Qwest Field on Friday, March 25, 2011 in Seattle. The striker's career is now uncertain owing to blood clot issues.-File

Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer

TORONTO, Canada:On the eve of Jamaica's match against Canada here, Jamaican O'Brian White found himself barred from entering BMO Field to watch the Reggae Boyz train.

No credentials, no entry, security insisted, ignorant that White represented Jamaica at several levels and was once relentlessly pursued to play for Canada.

He was also a North American high-school and college star and a Major League Soccer (MLS) first-round draft pick, who played two professional seasons at the same stadium.

Yet, White didn't fuss. He smiled and pulled his 6' 1" frame away from the entrance.

"It's OK," he said. "I understand."

The St Ann native has had plenty practice dealing with ignorance and disappointment. His pro career was cruelly derailed - possibly terminally - after blood clots repeatedly surfaced in his leg.

Now, at 28, White is without a club. A once-promising career - with prospects lined up from North America to Europe - stalled indefinitely. Dependence on blood thinners have even stopped him from playing for fun.

"I had some issues with the blood clot and had to do quite a few surgeries," White explained. "Right now, I'm just trying to recover from it fully ... . I can't play right now."

Health-wise, he's OK, but may never play again. Recovery guarantees nothing. It's about life or death. But White is hopeful. The decision, though, is out of his hands.

"I still have time," he said, "but it's just based on the doctors ... . It's not like say you have a sprain or something, so you'll be out for a few months or what. It's a blood issue ... . You can't play while you're on the blood thinners because you can get hit and bleed inside. So that's the main issue and concern."

White has resigned himself to the worst case scenario. But there's no mistaking his priority.

"I would love to play," he said, "but if I don't, my health always comes first."

Youthful zeal meant it wasn't always so. White's accomplishments on the field made him almost invincible. After moving to Canada in 2002, the striker was named most valuable player at his high school.

He took a scholarship to the University of Connecticut, where he scored nearly 50 goals between 2005 and 2008. He won the Hermann Trophy, reward for the top player in United States Division I, and was chosen Soccer America Player of the Year in 2007.

Despite suffering a serious knee injury, which hampered his last college season, White was still selected fourth overall by Toronto FC in the 2009 MLS SuperDraft. Still not fully sharp after the college knee injury, he played two seasons, scoring four goals in 33 appearances.

He was taken by the Vancouver Whitecaps in the MLS expansion draft, then traded to Seattle Sounders in 2010.

That was his last pro stop. White, who represented Jamaica at under-15, -17 and -20 levels, finally rejected Canada's overtures and made his senior team debut against Costa Rica in 2010. He scored one goal in seven appearances for Seattle.

But White's promise shattered with the emergence of the clots, and Seattle bought out his contract, essentially cutting him loose from football for the first time in his life. No one's sure if he'll be back.

"Not even the doctors know that," White said.

He's had to deal with the mounting stress of uncertainty. But White claims he's winning the battle.

"It's a big issue," he said, "but I think, for what I've been through, just to be here right now is a goal accomplished ... . For me, just to be here is a victory for me."

passion for the game

Still, he longs for the game - the passion and competition.

"Absolutely!" White said smiling. "I've loved to play soccer all my life. So I miss it, but I don't try to dwell on it."

He's set himself a timetable. If not ready by next year's MLS preseason - around February - then he's done.

"If I'm not playing by next year, early next year, I'm just gonna finish with it for good," said White, who watched Jamaica lose 3-1 to Canada on September 9.

"If I'm not able to at least do a full practice, I'm just gonna leave it alone."

The past few months, he's tried to "fully step away from the game". The setbacks, White said, haven't prevented him from embracing life. He's about to start his own football clinics. "OB" is prepping to move on.

"(My football) career would only be for so long anyway," White reasoned.

"So you just always have to try to think ahead and know what you want to do with your future and think about that."