In a regular season football match against the Florida Tropics on May 28, Armando Maldonado made a ball move. But the Lakeland United striker had a cut from behind as his left foot was firmly planted in the ground.
His body moved, followed by a loud thud. At that moment, Maldonado could not feel his knee – he tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus around the 75th minute of the match.
Polk County Footballer of the Year 2021 Maldonado has signed up to play for the United Premier Soccer League to boost his soccer skills in hopes of a college scholarship.
His goal was successful. He earned a scholarship to Prairie State College in Chicago early in the season, and scheduled a start date with the NJCAA program on June 25.
But Lakeland United’s season effectively ended with three goals and one assist thanks to a knee injury and he was worried about keeping his scholarship.
“I was sad and didn’t want to tell the coaches,” Maldonado said. “I was thinking, ‘Why did this happen to me?'” “But you know that only God knows what happens to me. He has a reason. He knows why he chose me. Maybe he wants me to fight for the vision. He just puts me to the test. God puts you in challenges to see how strong you are.”
However, Maldonado believed that his scholarship would be withdrawn. Prairie State coach Carlos Reyes watched the football match in which Maldonado was injured, and for the next two weeks monitored Maldonado’s injury condition, hoping it would not be too serious.
Three weeks later, MRI results came in and doctors officially described the injury as an ACL and meniscus tear. But Reyes reassured Maldonado that the scholarship is still on the table for 2023 if the Lakeland United striker wants to go down that path.
Maldonado said he plans to stay on the track.
But Lakeland United coach Tawan Salgado said there may be more options on the table.
“He won’t be going to Prairie State College anymore this fall,” Salgado said. “The work we will be doing together will first focus on his full recovery, then bring him back into the fields with us and investigate opportunities for fall 2023.
“Coach Carlos Reyes of Prairie State College has already indicated that he wants Armando for 2023, but we will have other options for him as well and he will decide his future with our help and guidance.”
But, with his left leg fully in a knee brace while walking on crunches, Maldonado is waiting to see when he can perform the surgery.
Since the end of May, he’s been attending games, most recently present for Lakeland United’s 2-1 win over the Florida Tropics, which advanced the first-year program after the first round of playoffs and Sunday’s game in Haines City with Leg-AZ World FC, Florida West’s first team .
“It feels good for me and the team because we’ve been working hard all season,” Maldonado said.
However, Maldonado usually contemplates returning to play, even earlier when he made his football debut in Tegucigalpa, Honduras, while living with his grandmother. Typically, the former Polk player of all counties would play soccer in the streets or in nearby neighborhoods.
Competitive football was not available to Maldonado until he moved to Lakeland in 2014. His first taste in competitive football came when he joined the Florida Tropics Academy.
He will continue to play with Lake Gibson High, where he led the Braves to their first district title game in 17 years and back-to-back District Championships. He graduated from Lake Gibson as the second highest scorer in school history with 91 goals.
These are the memories Maldonado craves.
He said: “A month ago I was fine. I could have played the game, but I couldn’t. The injury is holding me back.”
It will likely take Maldonado 10 months to return. For now, he’ll be taking advice from Lakeland United boss Samuel Sampaio, who also tore up the AFC Champions League while playing in the fall.