WASHINGTON – Late last month, D.C. United defender Carey Talley was asked about the challenge of starting a match just a few days after tweaking a muscle in his thigh.
“You look at professional sports in general, it’s who can be the best at 85 percent of their max, because everybody’s picked up injuries throughout the season, and is tired or heavy one day,” responded the veteran.
“So it’s a grind, especially here in DC and cities like Dallas and Houston, just trying to regulate your body and be sure that day in, day out through a season, you’re not exhausted by game day.”
Talley learned how to cope with that grind over a 13-year career, and his younger teammates have had little choice but to do the same, especially over the past six weeks, as United’s busiest stretch of the campaign played out amidst a heat wave that made Washington’s midsummer mugginess even more unbearable than usual.
The recent temperature spikes debilitated large swathes of the East Coast’s population, but United and other affected MLS clubs could only adapt their regimens and carry on. DC players already wear heart-rate monitors at every practice to help gauge fitness and exertion levels, and normal training time has been moved up from 10:30 a.m. to 9 a.m. to dodge the midday heat, with most Mondays given off.
“It’s huge,” said midfielder Chris Pontius when asked about the effects of the heat on performance and recovery. “I’ve been seeing a nutritionist lately just to make sure I’m getting all the foods that can give me the most energy for each training session. Everyone’s getting on the massage table and getting in the cold tub when they can.”
United’s training staff is also working feverishly to nurse the squad’s many injured players back to full speed and the past week brought mixed returns on that front.
Left back Marc Burch returned to the starting lineup against Real Salt Lake on Saturday after missing five months due to a broken foot, but Dejan Jakovic re-aggravated a hamstring strain in the buildup to the Real match and may not be available for another week or two.
Others are in the same boat as Talley, playing through pain due to knocks that are just manageable enough for them to remain on the field. For months, goalkeeper Bill Hamid has battled an ill-defined shoulder problem that even he is unwilling to discuss in detail.
“I’m not really going to go into that, but I’m feeling good,” he said after playing 45 minutes of United’s 4-0 friendly win over Portsmouth FC last month. “I’m just working hard and trying to strengthen it as much as possible.”
It might not be ideal, but marathon MLS calendars seem unlikely to abate anytime soon, requiring youngsters and other newcomers to learn the hazy distinction between “hurt” and “injured.”
“I might see tiny little subtleties but at the end of the day he’s been training, hasn’t come out of training or missed anything like that,” said DC goalkeepers coach Mark Simpson of Hamid. “Maybe it’s something that we need to address at a later point this season, but right now, he’s looked fine and I’ve told him that.
“It’s nothing new. It’s always been there that he’s had some discomfort, but it’s always something that he’s been able to play through, through preseason and all the matches, all the trainings that he’s had. For me, it’s a non-issue right now.”