CARSON, Calif. – Question: What can force an otherwise healthy center back to the sidelines, keep him off the field for more than two months and force him into considering retirement?
Answer: Not even the player knows, and if he knows, he’s not sharing.
Welcome to Gregg Berhalter’s world. The Los Angeles Galaxy defender has been out since Aug. 14, but is set to return on Saturday against Colorado. Exactly what has kept him off the field, however, is a mystery.
Was it a viral infection, as was originally listed on the injury report back in August? Or was it a strained neck, the injury listed in the most recent injury report on Oct. 8? Or perhaps something else?
WATCH: BERHALTER TALKS ABOUT HIS RETURN
“It was a combination of things,” Berhalter said Thursday, refusing to expand or elaborate, or even acknowledge either the alleged virus or neck injuries.
Even Galaxy coach Bruce Arena has been in the dark about the injury, although in early September he said it was not a neck injury. The Galaxy, too, aren’t offering up any other information about the injury other than what has appeared on the bi-weekly league reports.
While Berhalter was evasive and reluctant to answer injury-related questions directly this week, what’s clear is the damage the injury has done on both player and club. A preseason knee injury kept him from playing the first four games, but once he returned he was solid.
From April 24 through Aug. 14, Berhalter was a fixture in the starting lineup. Save for one game in which Arena rested him, Berhalter played 90 minutes in 13 games and 78 minutes in the other two.
Then, the mysterious ailment struck after the Galaxy’s 1-0 win over New York. Pre-injury, Berhalter said he was not at all thinking retirement. Now that he’s on the verge of returning and having dealt with whatever he’s had to deal with, Berhalter thinks differently.
“You always think of calling it a day someday but as of this season I felt great, I felt fit, I felt strong and everything, and it hadn’t crossed my mind,” Berhalter said. “With this now it’s a different story. I’m going to have to re-assess it after the season to see where I’m at.”
[inline_node:306953]Berhalter was in line to return against Chivas USA but he said a hamstring injury kept him from playing – the only such issue that he was willing to share, and one that has not been listed on the injury report. He stayed behind to work on fitness while the team went to Philadelphia last week, and now appears to be a possibility to play against Colorado.
With Berhalter, the Galaxy’s defense has been nearly impenetrable. In his 15 games, the Galaxy have allowed nine goals and have racked up nine shutouts. In the eight games he’s missed with his ailment, the Galaxy have one shutout and have yielded nine goals.
“Clearly having Omar [Gonzalez] and Gregg organizes us as a starting point,” Galaxy captain Landon Donovan said after the club’s 2-0 loss to New York on Sept. 24. “The communication is very good. There’s a comfort level back there. Up front we had more of a presence. We defended better and then in the midfield we really worked hard and we were compact and we frustrated [our opponents].”
Getting Berhalter back in the final two games of the regular season would seem an important and necessary step. With some playing time under his belt and without any setbacks, Berhalter could be an instrumental part of the LA back line once more.
But Berhalter though is not targeting anything more than just stepping on the field.
“The goal is obviously to get as much fitness as I can this late in the season,” he said. “Hopefully we can have everyone fit and healthy going into the playoffs. It’s been difficult. That’s part of an athlete’s ups and downs, having to watch from the sidelines. We’re having a great season and we’re still in first. That’s one thing that calms me is that we still are in first place. The key now is that I’m fit and healthy and I’m working my way back.”