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The thrill of treating world-class soccer players

October 17, 2016 - TCO

The thrill of treating world-class soccer players

Soccer is nicknamed “The Beautiful Game,” and aptly so. On its surface it’s simply two 11-person teams running across a massive field of open space, trying to kick a ball into a net. But look closer and you’ll notice the violent grace with which each team competes. Players sprinting, sliding and kicking as hard as possible while simultaneously tiptoeing through crashing bodies and adding just the right amount of spin to each shot.

Ancient civilizations from China to Greece played the game, or something close to it, and today it survives as the most popular sport on the planet. And to think, some of the greatest players in the world compete right here in our own backyard. Minnesota United FC, or “The Loons” if you’re in the know, are a professional soccer team in the Twin Cities. Currently in the North American Soccer League and joining Major League Soccer in 2017, they’re recognized as one of the premier clubs in the U.S.

Since 2014, Twin Cities Orthopedics has proudly been the Official Orthopedic Provider of Minnesota United FC. Minnesota United Team (and TCO) Physicians Dr. Corey Wulf and Dr. Brad Moser work alongside Team Physical Therapist Mike Shirilla, DPT and Team Athletic Trainer David Bloomquist, ATC as the medical staff for the team. We sat down with Dr. Wulf and Dr. Moser to learn about what it’s like to treat such amazing athletes.

We all share the same goal.

The ultimate goal for everyone associated with MNUFC soccer is to win matches, plain and simple. It may seem obvious, but that focus creates a competitive team environment across the entire organization, and everyone benefits. From players to coaches to owners to medical staff, everyone is challenged to hone their crafts and be ready to perform at an extremely high level at any moment. It’s thrilling, it’s fun, and it’s what we all love to do.

The pros are impressive.

The average career of a professional soccer player is relatively long, compared to other major professional sports. Pro soccer teams regularly feature star players well into their 30s, which is a testament to their abilities to stay healthy and preventing soccer injuries.

Minnesota United players are impressive for their natural talent and abilities, but it’s their work ethic, focus and drive that keeps them performing at the highest level. As medical professionals, we always enjoy working with people motivated to put in the effort to not only get healthy but stay that way. Dr. Moser says, “I absolutely love it. Between the MNUFC and U.S. National Teams, I’ve worked with professional soccer players for 12+ years. The experience has shown me the extreme dedication that these athletes have for staying healthy and always improving in their crafts.”

My mind starts racing.

There is a TCO physician on the sidelines at every match, ready in case of injury. Dr. Wulf explains, “as soon as I see someone go down, my mind starts racing and I have to put a timeline together as soon as possible.” The athletic training staff is the first line of defense, and many times they’re able to manage the situation. They’ll take care of sore ankles, contusions and other minor injuries. If there appears to be a more significant injury, however, the team physician steps in.

Timing is always crucial. First, it needs to be determined if it’s safe to return to play. If so, they still may not be physically able to perform at a high level. Pro players have been through enough that they’re in touch with their bodies and usually know if they can or cannot keep playing, which is taken into account. The coaching staff needs to be informed immediately so they can make substitution decisions, if warranted. There’s a lot to consider any time there’s an injury, but at the end of the day we always err on the side of long-term player safety.

Learn about ACL injury prevention!

Advice we give to all young soccer players is to eat healthy, sleep well, and report injuries immediately to coaches or medical staff so the issues don’t linger or become chronic problems. Perhaps the most impactful advice we can share, however, is to make injury prevention strategies a part of normal routines.

There is so much great work being done to prevent soccer injuries, and we recommend that all soccer players, coaches and parents make an effort to learn about injury prevention strategies. The most common injuries we see in soccer are knee-related, often involving the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL), which start to occur at around age 12 for girls and 14 for boys.

We highly recommend the resources developed by FIFA, the international soccer authority. The FIFA 11+ program, for example, was developed by an international group of experts, and its effectiveness has been proven in a scientific study. Teams that performed the “FIFA 11+ ” at least twice a week had 30 percent to 50 percent fewer injured players, according to the FIFA website. Youth coaches, take note!

Just for kicks!

What’s the most remarkable return from injury you’ve ever seen?
Dr. M: I saw a player suffer a complete ankle fracture dislocation, then return to premier level play in just a year!
Dr. W: Nothing jumps to mind, which I think is good. What I like about soccer is that (compared to other professional sports) players are under less pressure to rush back too quickly, so the focus is on returning at 100%.

Why should people go to a Loons match?
Dr. W: The quality of soccer is very high, and the atmosphere is really fun. Kids love it! The players are accessible, unlike many other professional sports.
Dr. M: Every game is extremely exciting, and the fans are incredible!

Have you ever performed a bicycle kick?
Dr. M: Yes, when I was younger. I’ve played soccer my entire life.
Dr. W: Well, I’ve kicked a bicycle…?

Do you have a favorite player?
Dr. W: Honestly, they are all my favorite. I’m just a fan of the game.
Dr. M: All of the players bring their own style and personality, which makes it fun!

If you could play one position on the United team, what would it be?
Dr. M: Right or left back.
Dr. W: Forward/striker.

Do you play FIFA?
Dr. W: I used to, back on Sega Genesis.
Dr. M: Not enough.

It’s an incredible time to be a soccer fan in Minnesota, and TCO is proud to partner with such a great organization. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out a Loons match this fall and cheer them on as they compete for a championship!