Concussions take toll in soccer too (cont.)
Likewise, D.C. United's Bryan Namoff, 31, hasn't played since September 2009, when his post-concussion symptoms included such painful headaches that he says he had to sit in a dark room for much of the following six months.
"It's difficult for me to read. The words are kind of bouncy," he says. "I look completely normal, but on the inside I'm sitting here talking with you right now and I'm in kind of a dizzy state. I'm just ... off."
In an effort to improve its response to concussions and education for team trainers, coaches and players, MLS hired a chair for its new Concussion Program Committee in August: Dr. Ruben Echemendia, a clinical neuropsychologist who has a similar position with the NHL.
His 12-member committee (which includes Twellman) met for the first time in September and is producing a set of guidelines to help determine when a player with a head injury can be allowed to return to action.
"As long as there is contact in the game, there is going to be the possibility of concussion," says Echemendia, who notes that foam headgear has not been shown on the field to reduce concussions. "The best preventative approach is one of educating the players about the signs and symptoms of concussions, and recognizing that when those symptoms exist they need to tell the medical staff and get off the field." MLS has also conducted baseline testing on all its players for the past three seasons.
With his playing future in doubt, Twellman has started working as a commentator for ESPN in what may be the next phase of his career. He recently joined 300 other athletes -- including former U.S. women's soccer star Cindy Parlow, who retired at 28 because of post-concussion syndrome -- who have agreed to undergo annual testing and donate their brains after death to a Boston University medical school program studying the impact of concussions. And he's well aware that there are 18 million soccer players in the U.S., 78 percent of them under the age of 18.
"Raising awareness like the NFL is something we have to do," Twellman says. "I'd love to be a spokesperson for concussions for soccer and educate people. This is something that has to be talked about."
The MLS Cup playoffs start this week, so I should get some picks out in print. Let's break it down:
Los Angeles vs. Seattle: The Galaxy swept the Sounders this season, but L.A. was a lot harder to score on at that point than it is these days. Seattle, too, is a changed team after sending Freddie Ljungberg to Chicago. While Fredy Montero has cooled off, Seattle has a huge speed advantage, not least because Steve Zakuani and Sanna Nyassi are in form.
The pick: Seattle in a mild upset.
Salt Lake vs. Dallas: I could go on for hours about MLS' dismal playoff structure, which forces the two best teams over the season (L.A. and Salt Lake) to meet two other heavyweights in the first round. Both Salt Lake and Dallas possess the ball well and exemplify team play without any DPs. Dallas has struggled a bit of late and has been hurt by injuries to Kevin Hartman and Daniel Hernandez. And while David Ferreira has had a marvelous season in the attack, Salt Lake brings an even more varied attack spearheaded by Javier Morales. Look for Álvaro Saborío to have a big impact.
The pick: Salt Lake.
New York vs. San Jose: I'm surprised by how downbeat a lot of pundits are about the Red Bulls, who merely went from worst to first in the East this season under new coach Hans Backe. Thierry Henry may miss the first playoff game to injury, but New York has a lot of other solid players. San Jose, meanwhile, relies a lot on the scoring of surprise Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski, though Geovanni has established himself as a first-rate setup man. I'm expecting New York's Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards to make a difference in this one.
The pick: New York.
Columbus vs. Colorado: The right shoulder injury that has knocked William Hesmer out of the playoffs is the latest bad news for a team that has struggled in the league of late. Momentum is everything in this four-week knockout tournament, and Columbus just doesn't have it right now. Colorado has one of the league's best forward tandems in Omar Cummings and Conor Casey, and the Rapids will take advantage of opening at home (at altitude) to build a lead from which Columbus can't recover.
The pick: Colorado.
Western Conference final: Salt Lake over Seattle.
Eastern Conference final: New York over Colorado.
MLS Cup XV: Salt Lake over New York.
I always wish MLS would wait until after MLS Cup to hand out its awards. But if we have to give out awards now, here are my choices:
Most Valuable Player: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose. Wondo won it for me with his electrifying surge in the final weeks to win the Golden Boot. Barely beats out David Ferreira and Landon Donovan.
Rookie of the Year: Tim Ream, New York. Hey, I actually got a preseason pick right! Ream had only a few hiccups all season while playing a lot in the central defense. Noses out Andy Najar and Danny Mwanga in an excellent rookie class.
Coach of the Year: Hans Backe, New York. Give credit to Schellas Hyndman for turning around Dallas (albeit with a lot of ties), but Backe took the worst team in the league and finished first in the East. Apparently foreign coaches can succeed in MLS.
Defender of the Year: Jamison Olave, Salt Lake. The rock of the champs' record-setting stingy defense.
Goalkeeper of the Year: Kevin Hartman, Dallas. Hartman was in the news all season long, from his collective-bargaining-example limbo to his freak injury against New York to (most important) his consistently excellent play in goal.
Goalkeeper: Kevin Hartman, Dallas
Defender: Heath Pearce, Dallas
Defender: Jamison Olave, Salt Lake
Defender: Omar Gonzalez, Los Angeles
Midfielder: Landon Donovan, Los Angeles
Midfielder: Kyle Beckerman, Salt Lake
Midfielder: David Ferreira, Dallas
Midfielder: Javier Morales, Salt Lake
Midfielder: Sebastien Le Toux, Philadelphia
Forward: Edson Buddle, Los Angeles
Forward: Chris Wondolowski, San Jose