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Larentowicz: Atlanta United take concussions very seriously

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The veteran midfielder says United and its training staff are vigilant in treating concussions.

MLS: Atlanta United FC at Real Salt Lake Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

Yamil Asad took a ball to the skull from point blank range after the ball was kicked by a person who professionally kicks things hard, put his hand to his hand, turned and crumpled to the ground in a limp heap. Then he played 80 minutes of soccer.

Asad reentered the game after a short evaluation and seemingly ignored team doctors when they attempted to evaluate him further.

People were understandably frustrated with the team staff and Asad for continuing.

However, possible head trauma incidents in soccer put teams and players in an awkward position. The test used by FIFA to evaluate players with concussions is known as the Sports Concussion Assessment Tool (3rd Edition) or SCAT3. The test is appropriately extensive and takes about 10-15 minutes to complete. Teams are given the dilemma of pulling the player entirely or playing a man down for an extended period. Someone, whether it was Asad or the training staff, or the fourth official decided Asad was okay to return despite going through the full test.

Asad’s horrifying reaction amplified the publicity of his situation around the league, but Asad isn’t the only Atlanta United player to play through a concussion this season.

Jeff Larentowicz played all 90 minutes of the Five Stripes’ 3-1 win over Real Salt Lake and missed two weeks of play due to a concussion earned during the game. After the Portland game, Tata Martino mentioned Larentowicz’s situation to the AJC in defense of Asad reentering.

"We've proven it all season, especially with (Jeff) Larentowicz, that we look out for the best interest of our players and make sure they are protected," he said through an interpreter.

Larentowicz is a 12-year MLS veteran and has taken his fair share of knocks. On Thursday, he talked about concussions and defended Atlanta’s handling of Asad, and mentioned that Asad hasn’t shown symptoms since the blow to the head.

“I think the universal approach to concussion protocol is evolving. Everyone’s learning. I just had one myself. Each concussion is different, each brain is different. I don’t know what Yamil felt at the time but I know that Mario [Cruz], our trainer, takes it very seriously and our team takes it very seriously when you have a concussion,” Larentowicz said. “Tata said to me that ‘Your family is most important. You take care of that first and then you play.’ Thinking about that and thinking about our approach here in Atlanta, I think that Yamil continuing to play came from the right place. Obviously, he felt well enough to play, he continued to play the rest of the game and he’s had no side effects.”

While Larentowicz and Tata are confident that Atlanta United went through the proper protocol for assessing Asad, the AP reports that MLS and deputy commissioner Mark Abbott are examining whether further evaluation should have occurred.

"If there is a violation of any league rule or policy, including this one which is very important, the people who are responsible to that violation are subject to sanctions, which could be fines or a variety of other things," Abbott said.

Concussions in soccer will continue to be a major topic of discussion around the league (Soccer is second only to Football in concussion numbers and outpaces other sports by a wide margin) and while I understand Larentowicz’s assessment that Asad knew his own body, I think we’d all much rather see a potentially concussed player go through the full examination before returning and risking further brain damage. These guys have made a living on competing though, and it’s hard to tell them to stop doing what has brought them this far in the first place. Larentowicz added that if he was in Asad’s situation, he would continue to play until he felt something was wrong.

“I would make the decision based on what I’m feeling at the time. I’ve left games as well in my career. I can remember two or three that I’ve left because I haven’t felt right. I’ve gotten kicked pretty hard in the head and hit really hard and I’ve felt pretty good and stayed in those games. It’s the decision you make based on what you feel,” he said.