FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Players are subjected to an extensive and thorough series of steps to evaluate their condition after suffering a suspected concussion.
It speaks volumes about Pat Phelan's travails over the past couple of seasons then, that he can recite all of them by heart.
“Unfortunately, I'm kind of comfortable with [the process],” New England midfielder Phelan told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday as he recovered from his latest setback. “I'm kind of wondering why it has happened so many times to me, rather than anyone else. Fortunately, they haven't been too serious. They are adding up, but I don't have any side effects from any of them.”
The latest concussion occurred during the waning stages of the Revolution's 4-4 draw with Philadelphia last Wednesday. Phelan went to ground to make a tackle and inadvertently caught Union defender Danny Califf's knee in his jaw. Phelan appeared to lose consciousness and remained on the ground for several minutes after sustaining the blow, but he ultimately left the field under his own power and futilely lobbied to return to the match.
In the wake of suffering through this latest incident, Phelan followed the protocol he knows all too well from sustaining two previous concussions with the team: checking in several times a day with head athletic trainer Sean Kupiec and taking computerized and written concussion impact tests to compare to a baseline captured prior to the season.
Phelan passed all of those tests – “I seem to be getting smarter with each test I take because I keep doing better and better, so that's a good sign,” he joked – and subsequently received clearance to return to the training field in a non-contact capacity on Tuesday.
The fourth-year midfielder said he expected to receive full clearance on Wednesday.
Revolution coach Steve Nicol expressed surprise that Phelan had recovered from the blow so quickly, but he cited the vagaries of recovery time to explain why he had returned to the field less than a week after his injury.
“Everyone's different,” Nicol said. “It's the same with most injuries. Players take different amounts of time. Obviously, I'm surprised that Pat has recovered so quickly, but it's just one of those things.”
In order to ward off future knocks, Phelan will soon wear a protective mouthguard to complement his trademark headgear. Phelan always takes the field in that headband-like apparatus, but it only covers the upper part of his head and isn't designed to blunt the effects of a knock on the cheek or jaw.
During the course of treatment after his most recent concussion, Phelan received advice about the potential benefits of wearing a mouthguard and sat with the team dentists for the New England Patriots to create a form-fitted piece to reduce the potential impact of another hit to the jaw.
“Two out of the three concussions I have suffered with the Revs have had to do with getting hit on the jaw,” Phelan said. “There's not much that the headgear can do to protect that. I'll take that step and see how it goes.”
Taking more steps on the field without suffering yet another concussion remains a more complicated proposition. Phelan said he tries to approach game and practice situations intelligently, but he can't dictate the terms in the middle of a competitive match and could cause more harm by easing off in order to protect himself.
“I'm trying to be smart with it in training. In the games, I think they keep happening because it's how I play," he said. "If you play scared and you play not to get hurt, that's exactly when you're going to get hurt. I try not to think about it, but I try to be sensible. If I'm going down for a slide tackle and get hit in the jaw, I can't foresee that.”
As Phelan prepares to make himself available for selection once again, Nicol said he and the club would take no chances with the midfielder's health as the season continues.
“When he did it at the time, he wanted back in the game, but we weren't going to do anything silly to risk him,” Nicol said. “It's the same thing now. We're not going to risk him if we think there is a risk. All of the doctors have told us that he has passed the tests, so he's good to go.”