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Philadelphia Union ironman Haris Medunjanin credits strict diet for playing every minute

When he starts Sunday, the 34-year-old midfielder will appear in every game for the second of his three seasons with the Union. In 2017, he played all but three minutes. 

Jul 20, 2019; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin (6) celebrates the goal of midfielder Marco Fabian (not pictured) during the first half against the Chicago Fire at Talen Energy Stadium. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

CHESTER, Pa. — Some tips Haris Medunjanin picked up during his stints in Spain has helped him remain fit for each of the Philadelphia Union’s 34 regular-season games. 

“When I was in Spain, we had a strict diet to help you recover quick,” Medunjanin said. “In general, if you don’t have sugar, if I could tell everybody, it’s the best to keep that out. You feel the difference a lot. That’s how we learned in Spain, and since then, I’ve been trying to do that, training full because when you train full you will also play good. You will be fit. That’s what my key is when I come into the season.” 

When he starts Sunday, the 34-year-old midfielder will appear in every game for the second of his three seasons with the Union. In 2017, he played all but three minutes. 

Including Sunday’s match with New York City FC, Medunjanin will have started 97 of a possible 102 matches for Jim Curtin’s side. 

“It’s a credit to our performance department, to be honest, that they can prepare these guys to play every minute of a 34-game season,” Union manager Jim Curtin said. “It speaks to how professional they are. Jack (Elliott) and Haris are guys that run forever and take care of their bodies, do all the little things off the field so there’s not little injuries.” 

The preparation for games starts on the first day of training each week for Medunjanin, who has 10 assists in 2019. 

“You want to try new things to see how your body responds to it,” Medunjanin said. “My body was responding well and thank goodness no injuries and these kind of things. I don’t know if it’s 100 percent working, but when you have in your head something clear that you want to do, it’s much easier to do these kind of things.”

“That’s how I always come to train,” Medunjanin said. “I always say if you train 40 or 50 percent, you’re going to get more injured than if you train 100 percent. That’s how we learned from the beginning of our careers when we were younger to always give 100 percent because if you give 20 percent there is more possibility to get hurt. A lot of players get hurt because they don’t want to train and they go half into the duels.” 

Before coming to Major League Soccer, the Bosnia and Herzegovina international spent time in the Netherlands, Spain, Turkey and Israel. 

The major difference between the European leagues and MLS is the condensed schedule, which the Union faced last week with three road trips in one week. 

While the grueling schedule can be taxing on a player’s body, Medunjanin has learned to adjust, instead of complaining.

“It’s difficult with this week, especially at the end of the season when you’re already tired,” Medunjanin said. “You need to fly across the country and then have two games to play. In Europe, we don’t have this kind of thing. It’s impossible. That is how it is over here. You need to adjust to these kind of things. You can’t complain and give how much you can.” 

Elliott is also on track to play 34 games at center back for the Union. He admitted there are not many secrets to keeping his body fresh for the entire regular season. 

“Not anything in particular,” Elliott said. “It’s just the recovery from the games before, eating right, sleeping right. Just doing all the right things. I don’t think there’s any real secret. I think most of the stuff is out there and known about.” 

Right back Ray Gaddis is also on track to hit the 34-start milestone. He has played in 2,873 minutes for the third-place side in the Eastern Conference.

Before suffering a quad injury Sunday in Columbus, Alejandro Bedoya was set to join Medunjanin and Elliott in the 34-game club. 

One other MLS player has the potential to play in every single minute: former Union and current Colorado Rapids defender Keegan Rosenberry. New England’s Carles Gil and D.C. United’s Steve Birnbaum could make their 34th starts of the season Sunday, but they have not played the full 2,970 minutes. 

Rosenberry also played every minute in 2016, starting a four-season streak of 34-game starters in the Union lineup. Auston Trusty achieved the feat in 2018. 

“Over the past several years, we’ve had these ironmen, so to speak,” Curtin said. “And I think that’s a credit to the performance department and the players pushing themselves.”

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