The soccer community, much to its credit, is taking concussions seriously. Even those of us who are at the low rungs of the coaching ladder have been required to watch videos so frightening that the natural response might be to sit a player for life after he or she first heads the ball. We have high-profile ex-players like Taylor Twellman and Alecko Eskandarian whose careers were cruelly cut short but have stepped forward to talk about concussion safety for the betterment of the next generation of players.
So when Abby Wambach tumbled to the ground at the Maryland SoccerPlex early this season and no one took immediate action, astute observers like Stefan Fatsis (who was there and had a better view than I did) took note. Fatsis questioned the lack of response, followed up after a week of conflicting information, then covered U.S. Soccer’s comments concluding Wambach’s injury was mishandled on the field but then correctly handled afterwards.
Now another national team player, Ali Krieger, has taken a hit on the field. The immediate reaction July 14 in Seattle was drastically different — Krieger sat down right away. The next time I saw the Spirit practice, Krieger wasn’t there. Nor did she play in the Spirit’s games July 20 or July 27. She played 21 minutes as a substitute July 31 against Western New York.
So far, so good. But when Krieger was a late scratch from the August 3 game at Sky Blue, the questions started.
There’s no harm in asking questions. Fatsis was right to question the way the Wambach concussion was handled. The harm comes in assuming answers when the information is incomplete. If you’re not a doctor, don’t play one on Twitter.
What we DO know is that Krieger was taken out immediately and sat out the next two games. That’s plenty of time to keep running tests and then move her back into gradual activity when her symptoms cleared.
Some people view her substitute appearance with suspicion. They shouldn’t. When an elite soccer player takes several days off from training, you can’t expect her to ramp up to 90 minutes in a few days. Whether it’s a concussion, an ankle injury or a trip to Aruba, time off from training is going to limit someone’s ability to play a full game right away. (Note that a couple of the late signees to the NWSL — Sky Blue’s Ashley Nick and Washington’s Marisa Abegg — have been playing this summer, so they were fit and ready to go. Portland’s Tina Ellertson is a fantastic player, but she hasn’t been playing recently, so the Thorns didn’t sign her and toss her out in the starting lineup right away.)
What happened next is indeed curious. Krieger missed the next game. I can’t really explain why. But neither can you. It takes a strange sort of conspiracy theorist to come up with a reason why the Spirit, already mathematically eliminated, felt it vitally important to play Krieger for 21 minutes in one game if she hadn’t been medically cleared to play.
Let’s ask this question: Can concussion symptoms go away and then come back? Yes. Ask Marc Savard.
Now bear in mind — we don’t know the details of what’s going on with Krieger right now. Maybe she felt slightly off. Maybe she has full-blown post-concussion syndrome. (Don’t panic — from what I’m hearing, this is unlikely. Just stating it as within the realm of possibility.) We don’t know.
Perhaps teams and the NWSL in general should be more forthcoming with injury information. But until that happens, be very careful about filling the gaps with stuff we don’t know.
The evidence doesn’t suggest Krieger was recklessly rushed back onto the field. If anyone has any evidence to the contrary, by all means, share it.