He thought his career was all over.
He thought everything he worked for was gone because of a split second in his life that he never wants to relive.
Last season, in a road match against Seton Hall on Sept. 21, USF midfielder Bernardo Anor let the ball pass through his legs, planted his left foot beyond his right and was hit by an oncoming defender. His knee buckled.
“The knee just kind of got stuck,” he said. “I felt a pain I’ve never felt before. I thought I broke something.”
It was so bad, he said, that trainers at the game didn’t even know what he hurt at first. It wasn’t until he returned to Tampa from the team’s road trip that a doctor broke the news to him: it was a torn ACL.
After more than a year, Anor, who has five goals this season for the Bulls, said he still hasn’t fully recovered. A few setbacks, including a separate surgery that involved Anor’s heart, pushed the ACL rehab process back a few months.
Before this season, doctors discovered an abnormality in Anor’s heart. He suffered from Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome, a condition involving rapid heart rate.
“If it gets too high, you can pass out,” Anor said. “You can get a heart attack. I didn’t want to live that experience. I took care of that right away.”
It slowed his recovery, but he was able to return this year as a substitute during a 1-0 win against Florida Gulf Coast on Sept. 5, his first regular season game since the ACL injury.
Anor, 21, hasn’t looked back, becoming a force in USF’s offense as he ranks second on the team with 11 points.
Anor, who is also battling a hip injury, had to stay patient while battling three medical conditions in the past year.
“We see him working back to fitness every day,” said senior forward Zak Boggs. “We know he loves to be out there. He’s great to have and gives us good energy.”
USF coach George Kiefer said Anor is a top player in the nation when healthy.
“I think it’s a real credit to the trainers,” Kiefer said. “There’s always that uncertainty with an ACL. You’re seeing him get back to what he can do. He’s a true attacking midfielder. He’s one of the better players in the country.”
While out, Anor had to watch as the Bulls won their first Big East Championship last season. He said it was tough not to be out there with his teammates.
“I was always there for them, hoping that they win every single game,” he said. “At the same time, I was anxious to be on the field and be a part of the team. It was tough. It never happened to me before. When I found out I had an ACL (injury), to be honest, I cried. I thought my career was done.”
Anor said the hip injury has been more of a nuisance than anything, and he’s happy about his performances this season. He’ll help lead the Bulls into tonight’s 7:30 matchup with Marquette at the USF Soccer Stadium in the first round of the Big East tournament.
Coincidence or fate?
Anor’s arrival at USF may have been pure coincidence. It happened in the summer of 2006 in the Caracas, Venezuela airport. USF teammate and childhood friend Francisco Aristeguieta saw Anor, who was flying to Tampa to take a course to learn English at his mother’s request.
Aristeguieta was flying to Tampa to enroll at USF, where he had already been offered a soccer scholarship.
“I asked him where he was heading to,” Anor said. “He told me to USF. It was a coincidence we were heading to the same place.”
Anor didn’t know of Aristeguieta’s plans to play soccer for the Bulls. Shortly after, Aristeguieta was recruiting Anor to the team.
“I tried to help him out as much as I could,” Aristeguieta said. “I knew he’d be an asset.”
With Aristeguieta’s help, Anor played pickup games with some of USF’s players during the off-season. Eventually, the USF coaching staff heard.
“I don’t know how (Kiefer) found out I was playing with them, but he asked me to talk with one of the USF assistants to set up a time and place where they can go see me play,” Anor said.
In turn, the USF coaching staff watched him with the Caracas soccer team in Venezuela, and they offered him a scholarship.
“Thank God they liked me,” Anor said. “Here I am.”
Anor’s father, also named Bernardo, played soccer professionally in Venezuela and was a part of the country’s national team in the 1980 Olympics.
Anor said he was “sort of born into soccer” and attended many of his father’s matches when he was young.
“He’s like an idol for me,” he said. “Everybody said he was an excellent player. People around him said he was the best. He’s my biggest influence as a soccer player.”
Like his father, Anor said he’s pursuing a professional career.
“That’s my goal,” he said. “That’s one of my biggest dreams. That’s all I want to do with my life.”
Anor’s parents and relatives from Venezuala don’t often get to see their son play. When they have, it wasn’t in the best circumstances.
During his freshman year, Anor’s father had already booked a flight to see Anor play, but a red card the previous match sidelined him for the match his father attended.
Last season, his mother attended the game when he tore his ACL, and early this season, Anor’s mother and grandmother have been in town a few times only to see Anor hobbled by the nagging hip injury.
“It’s not meant to be,” Anor said.
Though his family has bad luck seeing him play, Anor said there’s a chance his father will try to come to another match. If USF makes the final four of the Big East tournament, which takes place in West Virginia, his father could be in attendance.
“He might go there,” Anor said. “He’s going to get to see me for the first time in a while.”
Anor said he feels blessed to be back with the team, as USF, the No. 3 seed in the Red Division, defends its Big East tournament title.
“It feels awesome to come back and play again,” he said. “For me, it’s the most beautiful sport in the world.”