Matthew McDonnell rose from his seat with 20 minutes left in the first half and started doing light sprints on the track behind Smithtown West's bench.
McDonnell wore a black brace on each knee, the result of dislocating his kneecaps in separate on-field incidents before the season, Smithtown West coach Tom Lips said.
With each sprint, he became more ready. He became more excited to play, more eager to make a difference.
The junior forward checked into the game with 13 minutes left in the first half. For the first time this season, he played into the second half, and for the first time this season, he scored a goal -- a very important one.
McDonnell put in the go-ahead goal with 20 minutes left, and Matt Aprile scored two goals as host Smithtown West defeated Half Hollow Hills West, 3-1, Monday in League III boys soccer.
"I was really excited when I was warming up," said McDonnell, who missed the Bulls' first six games and played only a handful of minutes in their previous two matches before logging 40 minutes Monday. "When you're coming back from an injury, it's exciting knowing you're about to get on the field. Scoring that goal was special."
That was especially true considering Smithtown West (7-1) trailed entering the second half. Richie Mastrangelo cashed in during a scramble near the net with 49 seconds left in the first half to give Hills West (5-2-1) a 1-0 lead.
Aprile tied it at 1 for Smithtown West with 28 minutes left after receiving a through ball from Anthony D'Amico. Aprile's penalty kick made it 3-1 with 3:25 remaining.
When McDonnell was taken out with 10 minutes left, Smithtown West's entire bench applauded him.
"If [McDonnell] didn't battle as many injuries,'' defender Steve Dovi said, "he'd be known as one of the best players on Long Island."
Said Aprile: "We definitely missed [McDonnell] early in the season. Getting him back now as we're heading toward the playoffs helps us a lot. We're excited."