The first notable moment in the history of New York City FC is … a potential head injury. Things didn’t get off to a great start for the expansion club as Josh Saunders clattered into the post 14 minutes into its first ever match, only to stay in the match.
The incident was frightening as Saunders went up to collect a cross but was bumped into, fell backward and hit the post. Immediately after the play was whistled dead, trainers rushed to onto the field, with blood appearance on the back of Saunders’ head once he sat up.
Whenever a player appears to get hit in the head, there are going to be questions about whether the sport does enough to treat head injuries. Given the blow and the fact Saunders stayed in the game, this incident was no different.
Trainers did not appear to conduct a concussion test, nor would they have had time to. It’s not as if NYCFC could play without a goalkeeper, so the team had to know right then whether Saunders could continue. It was an awful situation for Saunders as well as the trainers, but it’s one that the sport and MLS put themselves in because the substitution rules. A decision had to be made in that moment.
In an effort to better diagnose and treat head injuries, some have proposed changing the substitution rules. One would allow concussed players to be taken off without the move counting a team’s three subs. Players with head injuries could be subbed off for five, 10 or 15 minutes, time in which trainers could make a better evaluation. If the player is cleared, he could return without the return counting against a team’s three subs.
It’s entirely possible that Saunders is perfectly fine and should have been allowed to continue. I am not a doctor, and I did not evaluate him. But it is unfair that trainers had to rush a decision because of substitution rules. Other players have ended up the same situation as Saunders, some with very clear head injuries, and had to play on. The whole situation’s a disservice to the players’ health.
Whether the edict comes from FIFA or MLS, rules have to be changed. Priority needs to be placed on properly evaluating and treating players without any worry of how it impacts the match and substitutions.
That isn’t the case now, and as more and more scientific research shows, that puts players short-term and long-term health at risk. That’s not only cold and unacceptable; it’s also cruel.