A View from Afar / Analysis

Deconstructing the “injury-prone” label

Photo: Earl Gardner

This might be what you call injury-prone.

Over the years, I’ve picked up the following injuries:

  • Two broken fingers
  • One broken wrist
  • One broken arm (radius)
  • Cracked ribs (at least four separate times)
  • Three serious concussions, characterized as serious by loss of consciousness, short-term memory, or 20 pounds in a week due to post-concussion syndrome
  • Numerous “dings,” i.e. more routine concussions
  • Unidentified elbow injury which led to bone chips floating around my elbow for 20 years, bursitis, and the elbow locking up and not bending
  • Various muscle sprains, joint sprains, jammed digits, etc.

I have a head start of about 15 years, but I never went pro.

So expect Josh Yaro to catch up. Five significant injuries in eight months indicate something.

But what?

It’s easy to toss the “injury-prone” label around, but the reality is more complicated. The first concussion makes you more susceptible to recurrences, much like an initial injury to a knee or shoulder that doesn’t fully heal will be more likely to lead to a worse injury later.

There are different types of athletes, and there are various factors that lead to injury and different types of “injury-prone” players.

Take the different types of athlete point. The Union have had numerous examples:

  • The speedster: Ray Gaddis
  • The graceful one: Maurice Edu
  • The jitterbug: Vincent Nogueira
  • The quick-twitch reactive: Andre Blake
  • The athletic freak of nature: Richie Marquez

Similarly, there are very different factors that make athletes susceptible to injuries. Here’s a look at some of the factors that can lead to “injury-prone” players, as well as a look at which type of injury-prone Josh Yaro may be.

The tough guy

This player fights through injury no matter what. Take a painkiller, put a cast on, wrap the knee up tight – whatever it takes to walk out on that field.

This archetype is particularly common in American sports, where we mythologize such exploits:

The problem is that if you don’t win, the myth — and your body — can quickly fall apart.

Maurice Edu has been the Union’s tough guy, bravely playing through pain in the 2015 U.S. Open Cup final – and suffering the consequences for over a year with the series of injuries that followed.

The kamikaze

You have this one in every sport.

  • The centerfielder who makes diving catches and runs full speed into outfield walls (Lenny Dykstra, Aaron Rowand, Ken Griffey Jr., etc.).
  • The wide receiver who leaps to catch hospital balls in traffic across the middle and gets pummeled by safeties and linebackers.
  • The center back known for acrobatic diving headers and desperate, game-saving tackles.
  • The scrappy sixth man diving on every loose ball on the basketball court.

The kamikaze throws himself around the field with reckless disregard for his safety and well-being. If he’s built like a tank, perhaps he comes out all right, but if he’s of average build or kind of lean, then he probably takes a beating and picks up quite a few injuries.

The soft player

Some people are just pansies. They never play through pain. These paycheck players take a ding, hit the bench, and that’s it.

The fear of being labeled this type of player is often what drives the tough guy archetype above, but it can lead to worse injuries. A year ago, I thought I jammed my right index finger on the basketball court. That’s a routine injury – and I was playing with law enforcement and military guys! – so I did the routine “pull the finger out as hard as you can” and played through it, despite the pain being far more severe than it normally would be for a jam. Later, I learned I had cleanly broke it, and it hasn’t functioned properly since then. I can’t help but wonder if it would have healed better had I stopped playing earlier, but there was no way I was going to get labeled the soft guy.

The inflexible weightlifter

This modern phenomenon covers the workout warrior whose body looks perfect but is pretty much useless for athletic skills that require limber movement.

For some good examples, just review baseball’s steroid age (Jason Giambi, etc.) or take a look in the local gym for the guy who’s lifting just to sculpt his body for the supposed viewing pleasure of others. That guy probably can’t do a damn thing on the field of play anymore, if he ever could.

The guy too small for his role

Every time you watched Vincent Nogueira play, you’d see this jitterbug of an athlete with an extraordinarily low center of gravity whose feet moved more quickly than the fastest bicycle pedals. Put him in traffic though, and you saw how much bigger and stronger his opponents were.

Therefore it was frustrating, but not surprising, when he picked up injury after injury.

What about Yaro?

In the end, this last one may fit Josh Yaro best, a center back who seems rather generously listed at 5-11, 163.

The only regular MLS center backs listed that small are:

  • Atlanta’s Michael Parkhurst: 5-11, 159
  • Chicago’s Johan Kappelhof: 5-11, 165
  • Kansas City’s Kevin Ellis: 5-9, 160
  • Houston’s A.J. DeLaGarza: 5-9, 150

It’s telling that Ellis and DeLaGarza are fullback-center back tweeners. Every coach tries to play DeLaGarza at right back only to find that he’s best at center back paired with an aerial dominator. (Houston Dynamo’s new head coach Wilmer Cabrera will learn this about DeLeGarza too.) Ellis may be a warrior on the field, but he’s not big enough to be a top starter, nor is he fast enough to be a fullback. He needs to find a team with tactics that require his skill set, such as a 3-5-2 in which he could slot in as an outside center back.

Yaro has the speed and silky feet to play in MLS, but he may also turn out to be a “system” player.

Shoulder injuries come from forceful, blunt trauma contact or sudden wrenches of the arm. Head injuries occur in the air, where Yaro is at a physical disadvantage, his head level often at the chin, shoulder or elbow of bigger target forwards with good vertical leaps.

Different types of athletes fit different types of roles.

Yaro’s athletic strengths are his speed, gracefulness, timing, vision and technique on the ball. If you think that sounds perfect for a defensive midfielder, you’re not the only one.


  1. Dan, totally agree with the thesis of this article. Would add that the Union coaching staff has done nothing to help prevent further injury to Yaro; Curtin and cronies steadfastly refuse to consider switching him to d-mid.

    • Because our d-mids have been so healthy…
      They probably want him to get comfortable to the speed and style of play in the position he’s most comfortable in. Plus just because we think he’d be good at d-mid doesn’t mean he would be. I don’t see much of a difference in injury types between d-mid and cb honestly.

    • We’ve beaten the drum for this experiment for a while now. And with the current roster situation, it might actually be a great year to try it out. It will extend his career by years.
      Move Yaro (and his fantastic vision and passing) to CDM, and let Trusty come up and learn behind Gooch until he’s ready to take over the spot.
      Marquez/Trusty, with Yaro in front of them. Is it me, or does that seem like a fantastic defensive core for years to come?

    • I Am Citizen Insane says:

      Some of the finest technicians of the ball with the finest vision and passing range in world footy are center backs.
      Josh Yaro has an elite skill set for the position. He’ll be more than fine… just gotta hope he isn’t hurt so often.

    • Old Soccer Coach says:

      The player has to want to make the switch.
      Pete rose was exceptional in that he gladly switched positions with the Big Red Machine in order to get other teammates onto the field.
      Few are that confident in their own skills.

  2. So in which category do you put Chris Pontius, Dan? Not sure any of these categories fit him.

    • I don’t think so either. I won’t pretend the above list is comprehensive. 😉 Or that I followed his career and injuries as closely when he was with DCU.

      Many of his injuries, if I recall correctly, were related to his hamstring(s) and may be a matter of him just reinjuring the same things over and over again.

  3. I get that people think he should be a CDM because of his size, but when was it that the athlete themselves don’t get to choose where they play. Yaro says and has continued to say he wants to be a CB and thus to me that makes him a CB. Its the reason other teams didn’t want him in the draft. Edu continuously said he is a CDM and hence he will play CDM. Players most of the time play where they think they are best only on rare occasions in each team do you see guys convinced by coaches that they can thrive elsewhere. Think of Gaddis at LB he played out of necessity, but he still always said he was a RB. And now on the depth chart Gaddis is a RB.

  4. Just saying that to call someone a pansy is to say that they are being girly.

  5. Iverson was a tough guy.

    • Iverson was THE tough guy. I’m still amazed at what he did and how he played the game. He was maybe 5’10” and played the game like a linebacker.
      It’s in the mind. His mind was tougher than most.

  6. Old Soccer Coach says:

    Some years ago I watched Dan Dierdorf being honored at the Big House in Ann Arbor.
    Crutches, braces on his legs. Barely could get himself out to midfield. Real elements of human tragedy.

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