BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Cory Gibbs’ decision to call a day on his career Monday afternoon was a heavy one for the former U.S. international. Having played only three games to begin 2012, 32-year-old defender effectively saw his season ended after surgery to repair a torn right meniscus suffered during training back in April.
“This was very tough,” Gibbs told Chicago-Fire.com Monday. “During the rehab process I had a lot of faith and ambition to try and come back because I’ve come back from similar injuries in the past. Because of the repair, this one was a lot more extensive. I had a lot of faith but it just wasn’t cooperating with me.”
Gibbs said about a month ago, he had to sit back really think about life outside of playing. Considering his whole career, the club’s 2011 Defender of the year decided it was time to call it a day.
April’s setback wasn’t the first in what turned out to be a fruitful career – a left knee injury suffered in a U.S. Men’s National Team friendly vs. England, ironically at Soldier Field in 2005, would put his participation at the following year’s World Cup in doubt.
Gibbs overcame the odds, earning a loan from Feyenoord to ADO Den Haag in Spring 2006 to regain fitness and was eventually named to Arena’s squad for Germany.
“After the road I took to get back, receiving the phone call from Bruce and being told I was part of the group going to Germany was the best experience of my career.”
Back in form, Gibbs signed a pre-contract that May to move to English Premier League side Charlton Athletic and was even looking to be a penciled in starter at the World Cup. Days before departing for Germany though, Gibbs suffered a more devastating setback, tearing his ACL in a warmup friendly vs. Morocco.
“I didn’t even cry at my wedding and I literally broke down and sobbed,” Gibbs remembered. “The day it happened, Bruce Arena helped me through the process when we both sat down and thought it was best to focus on rehab and getting ready for Charlton Athletic instead of trying to play in Germany.”
Devastating as the injury was, Gibbs said it stood as a turning point in his career.
“From the first day of rehab in Delaware I told myself I’m not going to take a single day that I have on the field for granted. I’m going to do the right things as a professional and as a player to give my all. I’d come back in the past but my focus was that much better and I think did a lot to help extend my career.”
However Gibbs would suffer niggling injuries that would keep him from ever suiting up for the south London club. Eventually, he would return to MLS (where he’d first played for the Dallas Burn in 2004), joining the Colorado Rapids midway through 2008.
After two seasons in Denver, Gibbs would go back near his collegiate beginnings at Brown University after being traded to the New England Revolution. Having appeared in 25 matches for the Revs in 2010, Gibbs was selected by the Fire in that year’s Re-Entry Draft.
He would go on to have perhaps his best MLS season in Chicago in 2011, anchoring the Fire backline in 30 competitive matches and tallying three goals. His veteran presence served to groom rookie Jalil Anibaba while also helping the Fire to that year’s U.S. Open Cup final and a unanimous decision as the team’s Defender of the Year.
Perhaps his shining moment for the Fire came as he headed home Marco Pappa’s 13th minute free kick to give the hosts a surprise 1-0 lead over Manchester United in a friendly at the same ground, Soldier Field, that saw his first major injury setback in 2005.
While he counts all those milestones as great memories, it’s what he did away from the field during this injury setback that gives a view to his character.
“Something that was really special that I took pride in was making the playoffs this year. It was a goal of ours from the start of the season and though I wasn’t part of the team, I did as much as I could off the field to help the players. When we did make the playoffs it was very memorable for me. It was an honor to represent the Fire and I’d like to thank my teammates as well as Frank Klopas, Andrew Hautpman, Javier Leon and everyone at the club for their support the last two years.”
As for the future away from playing, Gibbs would like to stay connected to the game at a high level.
“I’m going for my coaching license in January. I definitely have a drive and still want to stay in football. Definitely looking into coaching – staying in a position to be part of a staff – if it has to be a technical director or a head scout. I think over my career I’ve had an eye for talent and been pretty good at judging good players with the right demeanor and mentality to succeed.”
Gibbs leaves the game having in some sense paved the way for young Americans to gain more respect in Europe while also passing on his experiences to budding young Americans like Anibaba, Austin Berry and Sean Johnson.
“The only regrets are my injuries but in the end I was truly blessed. I’ve had a lot of time to think about this and reminisce about what I’ve done. Going to an Ivy League school when I was really not certain about what I was doing – leaving school and making a decision to stay in MLS or take my chances overseas. Eventually getting to play at the highest level and joining a top team in the Dutch league, signing with a Premiership team.
"I look back and feel that every decision I made were the best ones. I’m very grateful for that.”