It’s Not the Groin Demon Hurting Our Players, it’s a Different Demon.

It took four whole days to pick myself up out of this funk, and find the heart to write up something about Austin FC-related.  That loss to Houston Dynamo hurt bad, as evidenced by the dent in my drywall (you never know where those studs are, so I didn’t punch hard enough to risk an ER visit).

I soothed my bleeding verde heart by tuning in to the “Big Three” Austin FC podcasts (Moontower, Topflight and The North End in case they’re not in your rotation already).  

Across all three, I heard one common talking point that provoked my curiosity; so I thought it’d be worth looking into for y’all fans.

A Better Theory to Explore?

The basic through-line is this: there’s been so many games, the players must be tired… AND what’s going on with Austin FC’s high-performance team, since we’ve had so many injuries?  Specifically, what about this “groin demon,” as Phil West calls it, that seems to be going around? (Personally, I prefer Moontower’s “groin gremlin” because I always give bonus points for alliteration)

Well, the physios and high performance team aren’t exorcists- so even their “magic spray” isn’t going to scare away any groin demon, and they definitely aren’t miracle workers!

I think we need to look elsewhere when placing blame for our injury woes this year, especially given the context of 140 injuries across the league at the time of this writing (the total number for the season so far, is impossible for me to track down).

A Record Number of Injuries This Year

Through the First 3 Months of the Season
Multi-Match Weeks126

Based on these 3 stats that I patched together, my theory about the biggest contributing factor to all these injuries jumps out: schedule congestion.  Namely, a 3x increase in the number of multi-match games this season.  This led to the month of May having 8 matches!!!

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This will obviously increase wear and tear on players’ bodies, so the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of Major League Soccer, and the way they chose to roll out their new cash cow: League’s Cup.

Now some of you might be thinking, “No Adam, you’re wrong.” Austin FC is just the victim of its own successful 2022 campaign that qualified them for the CCL, and also two of those mulit-match weeks were because of the US Open Cup.  

My rebuttal is this: The league knows those other tournaments exist, and they have a hand in crafting how they’re scheduled. Plus, the schedule congestion is only going to persist the rest of the season, in order to carve out a month break for the new Leagues Cup tournament in July/August. Austin FC will have to play 4 more multi-match weeks that are entirely comprised of regular season MLS matches this season. One of those weeks will determine our Copa Tejas fate!

What Wolff says rings just as loud as what he doesn’t say. I hear you loud and clear coach!

The Other Demon

So the real demon that could be wreaking havoc on our boys’ bodies all year isn’t the groin demon, it’s the greed demon.

The invention of Leagues Cup is a cash grab, nothing more.  It will not prove any kind of superiority between LigaMX and MLS; if that was the actual point, the games wouldn’t just be hosted north of the border.  This was piloted over the last two years, and drew huge attendance figures- so it was probably used as a selling point in securing the deal with AppleTV.

In typical corporate greedy fashion, no provisions were made to protect the people who are actually going to be playing the matches.  From the league’s perspective, they probably feel like business geniuses (creating a brand new revenue stream, while keeping the labor costs essentially the same).  

I say all this because they would have increased the number of senior roster slots to allow for more options for squad rotation (or shaved a couple of matches off the regular season), if they actually cared about the health of the players.

As it is, the burden falls on coaches to determine if they run their top players into the ground, or run out a bunch of kids and decide which competition they’re going to forfeit – like LAFC had to do vs LA Galaxy in the US Open Cup.  And then the coaches have to take the heat when the inevitably negative outcomes transpire either way.

So How Should Fans Respond?

The players are not the only ones MLS is trying to exploit while trying to conjure up a new cash cow out of thin air, as evidenced by the following tweet:

They saw how viral our supporters’ tifos have gone, and they’re doing anything they can to bait us into creating another one. This is just to give them free marketing that legitimizes Leagues Cup.  The question is, will Austin FC’s fans be complicit in their scheme?

Like many of you, I feel the pull on my heart to show up and support the boys wearing our colors when we take the field versus Matzatlan and Juarez; but on the other hand, I wonder if a boycott will be the only way that they’ll get the message that we’re upset over how they’re treating the players.

Maybe it shouldn’t fall on the fans to send a message to MLS?  Maybe a more effective strategy would be for all of the coaches to show solidarity by only playing academy kids in Leagues Cup; thereby undermining the entire premise of the tournament. I know this one’s a fantasy, because MLS would probably fine the coaches.

I’m not sure what the right approach is, but as they say “the devil (or groin demon) is in the details,” and MLS got the details wrong this time, and I’m tired of people trying to explain the collateral damage from MLS’s careless implementation on physios who are just doing their best to keep the players patched together… or explaining it with fictitious boogy men.

MLS was blinded by the greed demon, and they alone deserve the blame for what’s happening to the players.

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