Injuries Lead to a New Staple of Sideline Care

stephanie lopez - u.s. women's soccer team
Midway through the first half of Saturday's victory over England, the U.S. put its new stapler to use on injured defender Stephanie Lopez, who had been kicked in the head by an English player. (Guang Niu - Getty Images)
By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 25, 2007

SHANGHAI, Sept. 24 -- Two weeks ago, after the United States conceded a pair of goals while playing shorthanded in its Women's World Cup opener, the team's medical staff added an important item to its shopping list: a surgical stapler.

Bleeding after head-to-head contact with a North Korean player, star striker Abby Wambach had to leave the match and walk more than 150 yards to the locker room at the far end of the stadium to receive stitches.

Given her importance to the team, Coach Greg Ryan was willing to wait for her return instead of replacing her. But the time it took for that to happen left him second-guessing himself. During the nearly 10 minutes she was out -- an eternity in a wide-open match such as that one -- the Americans' 1-0 lead turned into a 2-1 deficit in what eventually finished in a 2-2 tie.

To expedite future in-game treatment -- and perhaps to cope with the increasingly physical nature of women's soccer -- the American doctors placed an order with a Shanghai hospital for the disposable staplers, which are used to temporarily close a wound until stitches can be administered.

On Saturday night, midway through the first half of the U.S. team's 3-0 quarterfinal victory over England, the Americans had to put their new device to use. Defender Stephanie Lopez suffered a cut on the top of her head after getting kicked by an English player and, like Wambach in the first game, had to depart for treatment. But instead of going to the locker room for stitches, she was taken to the bench to get stapled.

Five staples and two minutes later, the 21-year-old was back on the field.

"It was like a piercing sensation," she said of the quick fix. "It was so very rushed, I didn't have time to contemplate what was really happening. Abby set a good example for me, how much our team needed 11 players. I needed to get back in there."

Lopez's abrasion was not the only bloody incident before halftime. While challenging the 5-foot-11, 161-pound Wambach for the ball, England team captain Faye White took an elbow to the face and later had the fifth broken nose of her career diagnosed.

White remained in the game, but both she and some in the English delegation suggested that Wambach struck her intentionally. They also accused the U.S. team of celebrating while she received treatment.

"I didn't do it on purpose, it was an accident, I apologized to her on the field," said Wambach, who also called the claim of the U.S. team rejoicing "absurd."

Intentional or not, that incident, as well as the injuries to Wambach and Lopez, illustrated a change in the women's game on the international level. Hard challenges and injuries have always been part of the sport for both sexes, but in recent years, women's competition seems to have grown edgier and tactically more sophisticated.

"Every team is physical, and they are getting more physical," U.S. midfielder Leslie Osborne said. "The game's evolving, players are getting better and better, and girls from each team are trying to use anything they can to disrupt certain players."

In the tradition of their male counterparts, the Brazilian women, the U.S. team's semifinal opponents Thursday in Hangzhou, have played the most attractive style in this tournament. But they have also been known to turn physical to disrupt opponents.

When Brazil faced the United States in a friendly at Giants Stadium in June, there were seven yellow cards issued, including five to the visitors. A similar tone could very well be set early Thursday as the Americans attempt to confine Brazilian midfielder-forward Marta, the reigning FIFA player of the year who shares the tournament scoring lead with five goals.

"The game is different now," said Wambach, who needed 11 stitches following the North Korea match and has inflicted and received a number of bruises since launching her national team career six years ago. "It's way more brutal, it's way more physical."

The average number of yellow cards issued per game is up from four years ago (2.43, compared with 2.03 in 2003) but remains behind the record set 12 years ago (2.54). In the first Women's World Cup, held in China in 1991, the average was only 1.23.

"The men have always been more physical," Osborne said, "but we can bring it."

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