FOX Sports Insider
Raphael Varane had friends nearby, offering comfort and condolences, but the flow of tears would not stop. He pulled the collar of his shirt up to the bridge of his nose, defeated, deflated, unable to comprehend the cruelty of fate’s hand.
That took place on October 22, and moments earlier, when Varane, a Manchester United and France defender, lunged for the ball as Chelsea’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang advanced alongside him, he felt something on the knee So one of football’s greatest players was ruled out of the sport’s biggest tournament, hence the tears on the pitch.
At that point, his situation became the manifestation of a potential nightmare lurking in the minds of all athletes preparing for the World Cup, now just 17 days away.
“You know what’s going on, you know where we are and how far we are and you see the things that have happened,” Kellyn Acosta, a midfielder for the United States national team and one of the men desperate to avoid the curse that hit him. Varane, he told me on Tuesday. “It’s a tense time.”
[USMNT Stock Watch: McKennie injury puts pressure on reserves]
This Saturday, Acosta will take the field for LAFC in the MLS Cup Final (Saturday, 4 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app), facing the Philadelphia Union in what will be the biggest game of his nine years of professional career. . The greatest … until that distinction is enhanced, a couple of weeks later, assuming he takes part in the USA’s World Cup opener against Wales at Qatar’s Al Rayyan Stadium.
Acosta is in a place where there is only one right course of action, but it’s one that flies in the face of human nature. Top-level football allows no quarter, no holding back, no reservations, no caution.
In other words, don’t play to avoid injury.
But try adopting such a devilish attitude when the World Cup is all you’ve been thinking about these past few months. Or if you watched four-time Champions League medalist and 2018 World Cup winner Varane go down in front of tens of millions on live television.
“For all of us the World Cup is a dream,” added Acosta. “It’s like a childhood dream and now we’re kind of on a countdown.
“But if you go into a game playing not to get injured, more than likely you’re going to get injured. You just can’t do that.
“For me, I’m just channeling it into keeping the things I can do well, and taking into account the little details, like eating well and resting well. I’m not going to spare any energy. It’s the MLS Cup and that’s what we’ve been dreaming about as well. This is what the club set out to do.”
The nature and schedule of this year’s World Cup has left no room for mistakes or setbacks. For example, the last game of the English Premier League before the break imposed by the World Cup, is November 13. Six days later, the most fervent spectacle in sport begins, when host nation Qatar take on the Netherlands.
There are no training camps prior to the event. No slow acclimatization. There is no grace period for minor bumps and strains to heal in time for the opening game. Just straight to him.
“You can see the wheels turning for these players every game,” former USMNT star and FOX analyst Alexi Lalas told me over the phone. “They’re human. Don’t think for a second that they don’t think that every inning or sprint puts the possibility of living their dream at risk.
“It doesn’t matter how rich and famous they are. These are men who have thought about the World Cup since they were kids. It’s impossible to turn it off. The more confused the better, but that’s easier said than done.”
[France star Paul Pogba ruled out of World Cup with knee injury]
Acosta is trying hard to put it out of his mind. LAFC’s history this season is very impressive and the club, which began play in 2018 as an expansion franchise, has the opportunity to add its first major trophy in front of its own passionate fans, at Bank of California Stadium.
A place in the finals was secured with a 3-0 cruise to Austin FC last weekend, but Saturday’s visitors Philly are not to be taken lightly, having conceded a goal to take down New York City FC to decide the Eastern Conference. support
“I stay present, even though it’s hard,” Acosta said. “If you had told me when I was 14 years old that I would play in an MLS Cup and have the opportunity to go to a World Cup right after that, I would have thought you were crazy.”
It’s an exciting time for soccer fans, because nothing gets the juices flowing like a World Cup, a global extravaganza that has an incredible effect on social life in virtually every corner of the planet for an entire month.
It’s the event every player wants to be a part of, so important that missing out on a late misfortune would be a deal-breaker.
As for poor Varane, it turns out that he has been thoroughly rehabilitated and, defying medical prediction, might be able to make the France squad after all.
Either way, his situation is one no player wants to entertain, in the midst of this strange time when the most important part of preparing for the tournament of your life is staying healthy.
Even when the best way to do it is to not try at all.
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Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and author of the FOX Sports Insider newsletter. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX i subscribe to the daily newsletterr.
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