By Dario Camacho - MIAMI, FL (Jun 9, 2012) US Soccer Players -- Serious injuries are by their nature disruptive. They are unexpected and intrusive in the worst possible way. In a span of a few seconds, a soccer player's career is in jeopardy. As cruel as it can be, it's also part of the territory. The risk of injury is always there.
For the professional player and his club, there's the broader question of recovery. It's as pertinent for the team as it is to the player. Systems are built from the individual talents of players. Take a player away, and few teams can simply substitute someone else in a fulltime role without making adjustments. Things change, and sometimes there's simply no solution within the existing squad.
The terrible news that Teemu Tainio’s ACL injury could be career ending is devastating for the player. While we feel for him, the injury and the prolonged recovery comes at a time when his New York Red Bulls are in the midst of an injury crisis depleting its regulars. Tainio's condition isn’t set in stone, as a surgery to correct the issue would definitely end his career, but the team is looking to stave off that route through different options. Even then, it would mean losing his services for the remainder of the season, and it places the Red Bulls in a tough position.
Tainio's name recognition might not be high for casual MLS fans, but that's part of the problem. MLS teams in general aren't built around just the superstars. Tainio's role in midfield is to win balls and using his tough, physical play to disrupt offensive attacks, not to mention his distribution springs the New York offense. That alone makes him crucial in their setup. With such an important player not on the roster, taking up $200,000 worth of salary space, and with an indefinite recovery time, it puts a strain on New York’s ability to find a suitable replacement. It also presents tough choices for how they will move forward.
With the summer transfer window approaching, the Tainio injury places the Red Bulls' front office and the coaching staff in an awkward position. Do they plan for a future that doesn't necessarily include Tainio, or do they try to stabilize their midfield by finding someone to fill at least part of his roles? Do they even take it for granted that keeping the same setup in midfield is possible in his absence? This is the time to consider all options, something no club wants to face in the middle of a season. A rebuilt midfield needs time, and New York is without that luxury. Seasons have shifted on far less.
Consider last season, where injuries were the story after Dallas and Seattle lost key players. That has carried over into 2012, with the teams they are in theory not the ones taking the field week after week. Neither Steve Zakuani nor David Ferreira has returned to his first team squad. It's uncertain when Ferreira will come back, after suffering yet another setback on the foot that sustained the injury last year. Zakuani is on the road to making his return, but that's the next step in seeing if he will regain enough of his form to continue his rise to the elite player level in Major League Soccer. Ferreira was already there, something that's not lost on his club and fans.
It's no question that Seattle and Dallas have both been on different trajectories with those players in the lineup. Dallas fell further because they were an MLS Cup finalist in 2010. For all the success Seattle has had in the US Open Cup, this is still a squad that needs to progress in the MLS playoffs. How easier it would be for both teams with all their options in place.
Injuries become a club-wide performance issue, since someone has to step into the lineup alongside his teammates stepping up their games. In the scenarios where clubs simply don't know when or if to expect a player back, all of these issues are compounded. It's a working restriction, one Seattle dealt with when they bought out O'Brian White's contract earlier this season after continued problems with blood clots. Seattle made it clear this was a competitive move to help build the current squad, that they weren't closing the door on White, and that he would continue his recovery efforts with Seattle. That's a rare luxury for a team in a tough position.
More often than not, a season or potentially career ending injury brings with it the kind of disruption that can take a team out of its game for an extended period of time. In MLS that might not be enough to shift a season entirely, but it could easily turn September and October into struggles. For the injured player with his career in limbo, it's simply not knowing. For the club, it's the knowledge that their plans have to change.
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