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A look at science behind D.C. United recovery during tough road stretch

Cryotherapy chambers, muscle stimulators and more are used to help players get ready for a quick turnaround.

Recovery is key during tough stretch of games for D.C. United. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Typically, it takes a professional athlete 48 to 72 hours to recover.

D.C. United has about 70 hours between the final whistle of Wednesday’s 0-0 draw in Toronto and Saturday’s game in Houston. Adding to the stress on the players’ muscles, United also played last Sunday in a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City.

“It depends on their position and how much high-speed action they endure during a game,” club Director of Sports Science and Fitness Jonny Northeast said. “It is typically sometime between 48 to 72 hours that you see some kind of inflammation and stress markers.”

Everything is specific to the individual player, their personal ability to recover and even the position they play. Fullbacks and wingers typically take the longest to recover, according to Northeast, who previously worked for Swansea City A.F.C in England.

“It is obviously a juggling act,” Northeast said. “We have guys that have played minutes and guys that haven’t played minutes. It depends on where they are at.”

For the 90-minute players, post-game recovery was a stationary bike, recovery pumps, and massage and pool work. The team even brought in cryotherapy chambers that use extreme chill to help with pain relief, strains and swelling. There is a lot of focus on hip activation and mobility, according to Northeast.

Center backs Steven Birnbaum and Frederic Brillant, and midfielder Russell Canouse each played 180 minutes over the two games and need more recovery attention. Those are also positions where rotation will be key.

Coach Ben Olsen will have to get especially creative at the central midfield position as Canouse played two full games, Chris Durkin departed for the U-20 World Cup and Junior Moreno traveled home for a family funeral.

“We are a bit fortunate making a fair few rotations from the Wednesday game,” Northeast said. “We kind of have two squads this week. There are guys who are preparing for Saturday as they would normally and guys that are in recovery mode now that are going to be in both games.”

United brought in defender Chris Odoi-Atsem this week to help with the rotation. For the first time since his cancer diagnosis last year, Odoi-Atsem played his first game minutes in Loudoun United’s 3-1 victory over Charlotte Independence.

In addition to personnel, this week of games presented the added difficulty of long-distance travel. The team left Washington midday Tuesday for Toronto and then flew from Toronto to Houston Thursday. After strenuous activity, waste product called lactic acid builds up in the muscles. It is important to flush out that waste to improve recovery time. Sitting for hours at a time is not the best way to combat that.

“The blood is just sort of sitting in the muscle, so you just have that waste product sitting in that area,” Northeast said. “On the plane, they are sitting around for three hours when what we want is them to get that blood flowing.”

“A lot of the stuff we do with the guys on the flight is get them in compression garments and some Firefly muscle stimulators just to keep their blood working on the flight. We also try to keep them hydrated, as well.”

Firefly is a type of muscle stimulator that players wear on their calves to cause the muscles to pulse.

As much as Olsen disapproves of the tight scheduling, there isn’t much the team can do. It is up to a team of trainers, including Northeast, to make sure they are getting all 18 guys as close to game-ready as possible and giving the coaching staff the most accurate information to put the best team forward each game.

“No athlete is the same,” Northeast said. “It is about finding that balance to make sure we are competitive in each game and making sure we are doing what is best for the athlete at the same time.”

Match Information

When: Saturday, 8:30 p.m. ET

Where: BBVA Stadium — Houston, Texas

Streaming: FloSports or ESPN+

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