MLS commissioner: Not my call on leaving Saunders in game after head injury

MLS commissioner Don Garber talks to media during haltime of the Orlando City/NYCFC game.


MLS commissioner Don Garber said Sunday that he had no issue with New York City FC goalkeeper Josh Saunders remaining in the game after hitting his head on the goalpost early in the team’s MLS debut against fellow newcomer Orlando City.

Garber made the comments at halftime of the game, which drew a sold-out crowd of 62,000 at the Citrus Bowl.

The play in question occurred with the match tied at 0-0 in the 14th minute, when Orlando City defender Seb Hines crashed into Saunders as he tried to field a Kaka free kick near the corner of the NYCFC net. The impact of the collision pushed Saunders backward, and Saunders’ head struck the goalpost.

Saunders remained down on the field for several minutes as he received treatment from the NYFC medial staff, and at one point, backup goaltender Akira Fitzgerald could be seen getting loose on the sideline, but Saunders ultimately stayed in the game.

"That’s not a call I’m going to make sitting up in the box," Garber said when asked about the play. "We have a protocol that was followed, his trainer was dealing with the systems that we have in place, so I’m confident that the decision they made was the right decision on the field."

However, Garber also seemed to put his support behind changing MLS concussion protocol. One popular suggestion would allow teams to temporarily sub a player out for evaluation when a concussion is believed to have occurred.

"I will say that I’m open to taking the lead and finding ways that perhaps we can put in that substitution that everybody’s talking about," Garber said. "I think this is an example of (how) Major League Soccer should lead on these things and I’m looking forward to speaking with (United States Soccer Federation president) Sunil Gulati and seeing if we can do that."

Orlando City took six shots in the first half. Saunders made a save on the only Orlando shot on goal, a 20-yard rocket in the 38th minute.

"I am happy with the protocol," Garber reiterated when asked if he was satisfied with how the league handles head injuries. "We take concussions very seriously. We’ve had a concussion protocol in place for many, many years. We’ve been leaders in this area, not just in our sport, but I think in professional sports, and I think the system worked. Josh certainly looks pretty good out there."

Saunders’ injury resurfaced in the 63rd minute after he collided with Orlando’s Rivas. Medical staff were called back on to the field to treat Saunders, who was bleeding from the knock he got on the head in the first half.

Saunders stayed on the field and finished out the game which ended in a 1-1 draw.