For Yale soccer player Alex Munns ’07, the reason he played in the Premier Developmental League during the summer was simple — participating in the highest level of amateur soccer play in August would help him lead his Bulldog team to Ivy dominance in November. But with one swift elbow to the face, Munns got much more than he bargained for.
After missing preseason and the first two regular season games with a tripod fracture in his face, Munns hopes to make his return this weekend at the Yale Classic. The Bulldogs will host national powers Michigan State and American, Friday and Sunday, respectively.
“The team has been anxiously awaiting Munns’ return,” captain Shannon Brooks ’06 said. “Munns is a great player and brings tremendous fight and energy to the game and the team every time he steps on the field. Any time you are missing a player of Munns’ caliber it will affect the team, and having an asset like him return to the squad will definitely have positive effects.”
With four minutes to go in the Aug. 6 semifinal game of the PDL Championships, Munns, playing for his hometown Des Moines Menace, took an elbow to the face during a ball challenge with an opposing player.
“The thing is that it didn’t hurt a lot and I wanted to finish the game,” Munns said. “But then I saw that my jersey was soiled with blood. The trainer had to stick two tampons up my nose just to stop the bleeding. That’s when the shock set in.”
Munns was rushed to the local hospital where it was revealed that the shot had broken his nose and orbital bones, requiring immediate reconstructive surgery. Rather than return to Yale for preseason — he was to leave the next day — Munns began his six-week rehabilitation period at home in Iowa. While the process definitely had its physically painful moments, Munns is quick to note the most difficult part of it all was watching his Menace team play in the national championship without him — his team beat the El Paso Patriots in Texas to claim the title.
The restlessness carried over at Yale, where Munns sat out the Bulldogs’ first two regular season games.
“It was personally very frustrating,” Munns said. “But from a team aspect you do whatever you can to help the team. My job these past few weeks has been to offer support and insight to the younger guys, maybe bring something to their attention that they didn’t realize.”
And while the loquacious Munns surely provided an inspirational spark on the bench, the Bulldogs would still rather have their star forward back on the field. But the question remains how Munns — Yale’s leading scorer last year — will fit into a team still trying to find the perfect blend of players. Furthermore, head coach Brian Tompkins has made a point to give the talented freshman class heavy minutes right off the bat. Despite the fresh faces in the rotation, Munns insists his transition will be smooth.
“We have to get used to all of our personalities but no one is technically rigid to the point where they can’t conform to the [overall] team style,” Munns said. “I think the freshmen we have should be able to adapt and fit me into the system. And even assuming we start three or four freshmen, that still leaves about six guys who have played with me before and know what I bring to the field.”
Tompkins is also quick to dismiss any concerns of a difficult adjustment.
“It shouldn’t be a problem because we can play Alex at a couple of different spots,” Tompkins said. “His personality is very competitive … he’s a warrior. He can help the young guys learn how to work hard to get the job done. [His return] is definitely a plus for us.”
Even if Munns does receive medical clearance to play, his physical status is still a question. Although Munns has been heavily involved with drills in practice, he has yet to play a full contact game since the injury. So while he is excited to have his playmaking forward back, Tompkins knows he must take a conservative approach with Munns’ return.
“The biggest concern is his endurance,” Tompkins said. “He will probably come off the bench and how long he stays on the field will depend on his endurance and his effectiveness.”
But one thing Tompkins is not concerned about is whether or not the injury will mentally affect Munns’ play.
“There’s an inherent amount of risk every time you play,” Tompkins said. “It’s one of those things that happens in a game, where you are a second or two away from a career-ending injury. If you know Alex you know that he is a guy that loves challenges, be it on the soccer field or in the classroom … For him the injury is just another challenge — I think he will put it out of mind.”
While not concerned about another injury, Munns knows his own limits as well. But that does not mean he will not do what it takes to get on the field. When asked about how he felt, Munns was quick to give all the right answers.
“When it comes to the opportunity to play, then I’m 150 percent [physically],” Munns joked. “I’ll tell you whatever it takes to let me play.”