That A.J. DeLaGarza played in Wednesday night's US Open Cup match between the Seattle Sounders and Los Angeles Galaxy wouldn't be surprising on its own and, in fact, would be a sign Bruce Arena was taking the competition serious. But there was an added storyline that made me question why DeLaGarza was on the field in the first place. Just nine days earlier, during a July 4 match between the same two teams, DeLaGarza took a boot to the face and sustained what the Galaxy generously called a facial contusion.
To recap, DeLaGarza was inadvertently kicked in the face as he and Fredy Montero battled for a 50/50 ball. He went to the turf, was attended to by the trainers and returned to the field. Just a few minutes later, without any contact, DeLaGarza collapsed. And he doesn't remember any of it -- not the boot to the face, not his play after the incident, not collapsing on the field. I'm not a doctor, but this sure as hell has all the signs of serious head trauma, a concussion at the very least.
But just a day later, DeLaGarza said he felt fine, trainers labeled his injury as a facial contusion -- a boot to the face causes such a thing -- and all was well again. He said he felt normal. He underwent tests and felt as though he could've played on Saturday against the Chicago Fire. And he was cleared to return to action a week later.
Watching DeLaGarza's play on Wednesday, something seemed amiss. He wasn't sharp, his decision-making was off and he didn't seem like the same player we've seen throughout the season. It may have been a poor performance or it may have been something more. I'm not here to simply judge his play on the field by itself, but taking everything into account, something didn't seem right.
The Galaxy said DeLaGarza didn't sustain a concussion in the collision. I don't buy it. It's my own opinion and I'm not privy to the tests he underwent, but when I see a quote like the following, it makes me question the diagnosis.
"I don't," he said. "I watched the replay probably 100 times. It's crazy. It's kind of funny, but it's pretty scary. ... I didn't have any [symptoms] the next day. I did some biking the next day, and I was fine. It was kind of immediately after walking off the field and coming in [that I felt odd]."
Concussions are a serious, albeit misunderstood, business. I've seen players in other sports take a blow to the head and experience the same symptoms DeLaGarza did immediately after the incident. I've seen these same players sit out weeks, not days, while recovering from a concussion. It makes me question why he was on the field just days after taking a blow to the head that caused short-term memory loss.
What can happen if players are cleared too early and sustain further injuries, even minor knocks that could come from headers or typical soccer activities? Ask Taylor Twellman, who's been leading the charge for soccer to take concussions serious. Repeated blows to the head, including the build-up affect caused by repeated headers and plays typical to soccer, forced Twellman to hang up his boots.
The following play was the beginning of the end.
*Note that at the 1:11 mark, after celebrating the goal, Twellman screams "I got a concussion."
Twellman has fought for more rigid standards when it comes to dealing with concussions in soccer. The sport, unlike football, is more contact than collision, but it doesn't mean brain trauma is any less serious. The symptoms that can linger from repeated blows to the head, be it due to collisions or the repeated impact that comes with putting a head to a ball, have the potential to be life-changing.
DeLaGarza's injury may have simply been a facial contusion that caused memory loss, dizziness and symptoms often associated with a concussion. Or it may have been something worse. The evidence points to the latter, which makes me wonder why he was on the field on Wednesday night.
Concussions are serious business no matter the sport and should be treated as such. While it's great the Galaxy took the Open Cup seriously and combined with the Sounders to put on a show at Starfire Athletic Complex, I feel as though more caution should've been exercised in DeLaGarza's case.