Less than 24 hours before the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team plays the Netherlands on Dec. 3, the team revealed that one of its star players, midfielder Christian Pulisic, who was injured earlier in the week, will play in the upcoming World Cup 2022 game.
"UPDATE: Christian Pulisic has been cleared to play in tomorrow's match versus Netherlands," the Dec. 2 tweet from the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team explained.
During the American team's last match against Iran on Nov. 29, Pulisic scored the winning (and only) goal, but he collided with the goalie in the process, sustaining a pelvic contusion. Afterward, the team's Twitter account shared that his status was "day-to-day."
"The opportunity was there to just to beat the defender to the ball, and I was just able to do that, and I paid the price for it a bit," Pulisic said at a Dec. 1 press conference. He watched the end of the match from the hospital, he said. The 24-year-old added that he was taking his condition "day by day" and "doing everything in (his) power to be able to be out there on the field on Saturday."
For a few days, it wasn't clear whether Pulisic could safely compete. A contusion can feel just as bad as a broken bone, Dr. John Vasudevan, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at University of Pennsylvania, tells TODAY.com.
But a Snapchat selfie that Pulisic reportedly shared Nov. 29 from the hospital in Qatar revealed his real feelings on the matter: “I’ll be ready Saturday don’t worry,” he wrote.
His teammate Tim Weah also shared with TODAY on Friday morning that he expected Pulisic to play.
“He’s been feeling good, so ... I think he’ll be on the field, and I think as a team, we’ll get that spark tomorrow when he’s with us,” Weah said during a video interview with TODAY from Doha, Qatar. “He’s definitely a key player to this team and we need him and we love him, so hopefully he’s back just in time.”
Now that it's confirmed that Pulisic will be able to take the field against the Netherlands, who are favored to win, he’ll likely be in a bit of pain running up and down the pitch, Vasudevan says.
What is a pelvic contusion?
A contusion is "a fancy word for bruise," in this case on the pelvis, Vasudevan explains. The injury is either to the bone or the soft tissues, such as muscles and tendons, he adds.
When a bone, muscle or tendon is bruised, it leads to a "disruption" in the tissue, according to Vasudevan.
"If you were to take a microscope and look down at some of these structures, you'll see the normal alignment of all the components of the bone or whatever tissue has been injured will look sort of out of order or jumbled," he says. "Because that injury requires repair, that repair leads to a big, inflammatory reaction by your body, but that response, which is normal and natural, is painful."
"It's your body's normal, protective mechanism to say, 'Maybe now's not a good time to play soccer,' but Christian is probably saying no."
Vasudevan says that the sheer force of the collision led to the contusion because it "(overcame) the structural integrity" of the part of the pelvis that he injured.
"There is just a limit to what the body can handle, and obviously, the speed at which he was going meeting the goalie, who is ... very much planted in place, really accelerated that," he says. "It was a direct hit. ... He had to have been feeling pretty bad."
The pelvis is one of the more painful parts of the body to sustain a contusion because it's "the attachment site for a huge amount of muscle and tendons, from the core muscles that connect the trunk and spine to the pelvis, to the leg muscles, to the pelvic floor muscles," Vasudevan explains.
By contrast, in the thigh or lower leg, "there's just a fewer amount of muscles and usually fewer different directions of motion that any joint or bone in the lower leg has to take on," he says.
What will Pulisic's pelvic contusion recovery be like?
Vasudevan says that while it'll be possible for Pulisic to play without injuring himself further, it will probably be painful.
"It won't be dangerous for him to play, but it's going be quite a nuisance to do so and still perform at a high level," he adds.
The recovery for a pelvic contusion usually takes between one and three weeks, according to Vasudevan. “If you see (Pulisic) looking about back to normal (on Saturday), that's a great sign he's more on that one week side. If you see him being a little hesitant, maybe even have to leave the game a bit early, it tells you it’s probably going be closer to that three weeks."
“I think the kind of thing that is going to bother him is not so much the running but the sudden turns, the sudden twists, the awkward motions, like turning on a dime,” he adds.
To get in the best shape possible for the Dec. 3 game, Pulisic is likely doing "progressive stretching, strengthening and soccer specific drills (to predict) what his performance will be like, but also a lot of medications and modalities, which is a larger umbrella term for things like ... massage and electrical stimulation — things trainers and physical therapists might do to help reduce the pain to allow him to push his body to its limits," Vasudevan explains.
Vasudevan says that the big question is whether Pulisic will be able to withstand all 90 minutes of Saturday's game. He thinks he'll be more recovered by then, but "it's just whether (he's) better enough that it's going to affect his performance."