WASHINGTON -- The headaches never seemed to stop for D.C. United's Alecko Eskandarian.
Loud noise and bright lights would set them off. Playing soccer -- especially heading the ball -- was out of the question.
Some 10 months after a collision with a goalkeeper nearly wrecked his career, Eskandarian wore padded black headgear and returned with a flourish, scoring a goal within minutes of taking the field in United's regular-season opener.
"Ten months of frustration," Eskandarian said, "was put behind that shot."
Eskandarian entered early in the second half of Sunday's game against the New York Red Bulls and energized a team that was trailing 2-0. His 6-yard left-footed volley helped United rally to salvage a 2-2 tie, and Eskandarian celebrated his goal as if he had won another league title.
"Esky, he did a good job of putting them on their heels, and moving the ball quick and going after them, and being a handful," midfielder Ben Olsen said. "It was so nice, to come from a guy who's been out for a long time and not sure if you're going to play again. He's dealt with a lot. To see him smile again after seeing him score a goal is a special moment."
Eskandarian, the No. 1 overall draft pick from Virginia in 2003 and the MVP of the 2004 MLS Cup, was injured when his head was hit by Matt Reis' knee in a game against New England on June 18. Eskandarian left with a concussion, but he thought he would be sidelined only a few weeks.
Instead, the headaches kept coming. He couldn't do anything physical. Doctors did multiple tests and always prescribed more or less the same thing: inactivity. Not easy for a 23-year-old rising soccer star, but he had no choice. Returning too early from a concussion can lead to long-term damage. He took classes at American University to pass the time.
"Honestly, just waking up every morning with headaches is tough, to know that I can't play tonight or I can't run tonight," Eskandarian said. "Once the headaches started going away a little bit, I knew I had a chance."
By the start of preseason practice in February, Eskandarian was ready to return. But he had one more setback -- hernia surgery in early March. He recovered ahead of schedule, a nice change of pace after the long road back from the concussion.
Eskandarian said he wasn't tentative when the play became physical in Sunday's game. The extra protection he wore was barely noticeable.
"The headgear thing's great. It's like a headband, so it's not heavy or anything like that at all," Eskandarian said. "I was able to do everything fine."
Including score a goal.
"It was a storybook way to come back," he said. "It was a long time coming."
Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press