An orthopedic surgeon who has performed more than 2,000 ACL procedures said that he thinks it is unlikely that Atlanta United striker Josef Martinez will return this MLS season.
Dr. Clint Soppe, who is a sports medicine specialist at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles and who consults for the L.A. Galaxy, said it typically takes an athlete a year to return after surgery on their anterior cruciate ligament.
“It’s not out of the question, but it will be unlikely,” said Soppe, who has performed the surgery on several MLS players. “It is a big deal and takes a fair amount of time to recover from, physically and mentally.”
Martinez suffered the injury in the second half of Saturday's MLS season opener at Nashville, a 2-1 Atlanta United victory.
The good news, such as it is, is Soppe said most athletes can get back to their same, or close to same, level of play. They are typically as fast, can jump as high, and cut as sharp.
But Soppe said Martinez shouldn’t rush back too soon because there is an increased risk of tearing the graft.
“It’s an even more difficult procedure if it has to be revised,” Soppe said.
After watching video of the injury, Soppe said he thinks Martinez’s injury happened when he collided with Nashville’s Dave Romney as the two chased a loose ball. Soppe said Martinez’s right knee went into a valgus, or knock-kneed, position as the players collided. He said the femur internally rotates, which is the typical position in which the ACL tears.
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Martinez immediately reached for his knee. As Nashville’s Daniel Lovitz walked toward Martinez, he can be seen grabbing his knee with one hand and pointing at it with his other hand.
“One of those freak accidents, unfortunately,” Soppe said.
Atlanta United hasn’t announced any details about Martinez’s surgery.
Soppe said the procedure typically takes two hours. A graft is taken from somewhere around the knee, usually from the patella, quadriceps or hamstring tendon, and then transferred to the ACL to reconstruct a new ligament.
Martinez will likely be on crutches for two weeks and can start jogging 2-3 months after surgery, according to Soppe.
“These high-level athletes do rehab faster than individuals,” he said. “It could be slightly faster than that.”
It takes between 9-12 months for athletes to return to high-level training and competition because it takes around a year for the transplanted tendon tissue to become ligament tissue. And the muscles must be rehabbed properly.
That Martinez has never before underwent ACL surgery benefits him because Soppe said operating on someone who has had prior surgeries means they already have drill tunnels that make another surgery a “more complex procedure.”