By force of an interesting coincidence, two MLS players of note unfortunately connected because they are each out of action due to brain-related injuries have updates posted to major newspaper websites. Though concussions are rarer in soccer than in American football, the cases of these two players and their ability to bring attention to the seriousness of the issue is an important part of the continuing growth in awareness of brain injuries in sports.
I'm talking about Alecko Eskandarian and Taylor Twellman, of course; the former has a write-up by Steven Goff of the Washington Post, while an update on Twellman is the focus at the Boston Globe soccer blog. Eskandarian is back at the University of Virginia, studying towards his anthropology degree and helping out with his alma mater's soccer team. Twellman is playing golf, something he's only just been cleared to do, and coming to terms with the fact that an ultimate decision on his career will need to be made shortly.
It's hard not to feel for these two players, guys who would love to do nothing more than simply play. Follow each on Twitter and that fact is painfully obvious (Twellman here, Esky here). Despite not playing, neither has transitioned themselves into an ex-player mentality; Eskandarian has put his career "on hold" while Twellman remains in MLS-injury limbo, leaving the door cracked ever so slightly for each to return.
The chances that both, or even one, will get back on the field seem small. Twellman's case is particularly scary because of the details he provides on his recovery. Cleared for golf and what is called "light" workouts (which he explains is essentially walking and riding a bike), the MLS great is rarely without some symptom of the trauma caused by that collision two years ago. Eskandarian's concussion history stretches back further than Twellman's, and it's difficult to imagine that doctors will clear him to play any time soon.
But both seemed destined for significant roles in the game beyond their playing days. Be it in the media or simply as de facto ambassadors through Twitter or whichever social media apparatus they choose to use, Twellman and Eskandarian are exactly what American soccer needs; charismatic and intelligent (former) players of note who can help make the game more appealing to a new generation of fans. And while they work at whatever role best suits them when it's finally time to hang them up, they will undoubtedly continue to do what they can to bring attention to the dangers of concussions in sports.
Concussion are hot topic in the world of American football these days, but MLS has been hit hard in recent years as well. The more education on the topic in both sports, the better; as Twellman and Eskandarian would no doubt tell you, brain injuries are serious, and rushing back to play is a decision in the short term that is not worth the complications it could cause in the long term.
If Twellman and Eskandarian have already played their last minutes in Major League Soccer, it's unfair and unfortunate. But their contributions to the game and to a better awareness of the dangers of concussions are far from done, a fact that will ultimately benefit American soccer.