From the front passenger’s seat of teammate Brandon Barklage’s car parked next to an open gate, D.C. United’s Blake Brettschneider watched his fellow reserves scrimmage the club’s under-23 squad at the RFK Stadium training grounds Tuesday.
Normally, Brettschneider would’ve played in such a match, but after getting kicked in the face in the late stages of United’s 1-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night in Harrison, N.J., he joined Barklage, Devon McTavish and Santino Quaranta on the sideline with concussions.
The rookie forward also suffered a bruised cheekbone, cuts on the underside of his top lip and a chipped tooth.
“It must have been a pretty good part of his foot that hit me because he covered a pretty good area of my face,” Brettschneider said, trying to find humor in New York defender Jan Gunnar Solli’s inadvertent contact.
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Shortly after entering the match for Charlie Davies in the 87th minute — United’s final substitution — Brettschneider was pursuing the ball at midfield when Solli’s high kick caught him in the face. Play stopped, treatment was administered and he underwent a series of standard tests given to players suspected of suffering a concussion.
“He was conscious and aware, answered all my questions, had cognitive awareness,” head trainer Brian Goodstein said. “He passed all the tests. I wouldn’t have put him back on the field if he hadn’t.”
Cleared to continue playing, Brettschneider rejoined United’s resistance against New York’s urgent push for an equalizer. The effects of the blow had not subsided, however, and when the match ended, he fell to the turf.
“As soon as I heard the final whistle, I just dropped,” he said. “I realized it was a little worse than I first thought.”
When Goodstein reached him, “he was in a fog.”Brettschneider remained down for a few minutes.
After being helped to the locker room and examined by New York’s doctor, Brettschneider was diagnosed with a concussion — his first, he said, since he began playing soccer.
Later that night, he joined most of his teammates, coaches and the support staff for the three-hour train ride home. The medical staff checked on him regularly and he said he rested and listened to music without any serious disorientation.
Back home Sunday, he watched a tape of the match — and didn’t remember some of the things that he’d done in the game. The medical term for such a sensation is anterograde amnesia.
“It’s still foggy trying to piece it together. Sitting there and seeing all these things I was doing [on TV] and not remembering doing it was kind of scary,” he said. “I remembered one or two things that happened. The rest, I’d see it on tape and I’d faintly remember it.”
In retrospect, should he have come out of the game?
“It’s a tough call to make. The tests we did on the field right after it happened, they said I was responsive and answered all the questions and my speech was clear. I probably should’ve come out — now that I realize not remembering having played — but at the time I could see why I probably looked okay to send me back on.”
United’s medical staff has had to take care of an alarming number of concussions this season. Aside from the four players currently sidelined, midfielder Kurt Morsink was out for a couple of weeks during the spring. In recent years, regular starters Alecko Eskandarian, Bryan Namoff and Josh Gros were forced into early retirement from soccer because of head injuries.
On Tuesday, Brettschneider underwent further testing and was scheduled to have his tooth repaired. On Wednesday, he’ll see a neurologist. Under MLS guidelines, players are not allowed to resume physical activity until they are symptom free for three days.
“Right now, just sitting here, I feel fine,” Brettschneider said. “If I tried to move around, it might be a different story. It’s one of those things where you take it slow and see how it goes. I’m just looking to get the recovery done and hopefully come back soon.”
Goodstein said Brettschneider has shown improvement each day since the incident.
Meantime, McTavish has been sidelined since experiencing a whiplash effect in a preseaso game. Quaranta, accidently elbowed during practice, hasn’t practiced or played in two months. Barklage, out for 10 days after getting hit by the ball, said he continues to experience headaches in the morning and before bedtime.
Barklage has suffered three concussions over his college and pro career.
“It’s my first one,” Brettschneider said, “and hopefully the last one. ”