NYCFC’s success in New England and Philly has sparked huge emotion inside me. This is my 6th year as Head Team Physician for the club and our first trip to the MLS Cup. The nail-biting penalty shoot-out win in New England in freezing temperatures was off the charts, compounded by the go-ahead goal in the 88th minute at Subaru Park. It was truly more playoff drama than the the crazy raging fans across the world and the MLS organization could ever ask for!
And while I celebrate these victories, I am also concentrating first and foremost on player health. Heber Araujo started his first game last week since his devastating ACL injury, and incredibly this first start for the 2021 season came in the Conference Championship game! The prior semi-final game went 120+ minutes and into penalties. The Eastern Conference Championship game was filled with incredible intensity and high pressure. The most common injury curse in these instances is always fatigue. The playoffs in general have not been shy of intensity and workload all around. Talles Magno’s winning goal and Sean Johnson’s saves were obviously outstanding but it is, as always, the collective group effort of players on the squad who have made the impossible happen. Seeing our players leave everything they have on the field and work to their bodies beyond their limit is inspiring beyond words.
That Sunday evening following the Eastern Conference Championship win, the text messages came pouring in from friends near and far. Next stop, travelling to Portland for the MLS Cup Final on Saturday. On Monday, I had a busy clinic at the hospital. Patients offered words of congratulations and gave encouragement for the upcoming big game. My office space is filled with NYCFC jerseys and memorabilia on the walls. With the team scheduled to travel to Portland on Wednesday, my incredible staff (Team Ahmad!) went to work to free my heavy schedule that week. Some 60 patients had to be inconvenienced with rescheduled appointments. I moved some surgeries to the following Tuesday and after this weekend out west, I will operate every day next week except Monday. I canceled all my meetings. Sadly, I will inconvenience patients, some hoping to have their surgery and recover in time to ski this winter season. I will also inconvenience my family as this is the height of the holiday season and there are lots of plans.
Being a Team Physician requires above all else, extreme commitment. In fact, when students (ranging from grade school to orthopedic sports medicine fellows in their final years of training!) ask me “what it takes” to be a Team Physician, they expect a narrative from me on elusive skills and unique abilities. I, like all sports medicine team physicians, have tremendous fulfillment from continuous training that affords me the mastery to diagnose injuries, surgically correct torn ACLs, and gives me the ability to research novel treatments — all in an effort to keep players on the field and/or minimize time off the pitch. But the not-so-glamorous and often forgotten feature of team physician excellence is firmly cemented in commitment.
It is a complete honor and a privilege to support some of the best athletes in the world. I always had a dream of working with soccer athletes since my college soccer days at Columbia University. I have also always been eager to acquire and implement cutting-edge orthopedic sports medicine skills to keep the dreams of injured players alive. And so the opportunity to work with elite soccer athletes on a daily basis is something that I never take for granted.
As I reflect on the honor of being a part of the first-class NYCFC medical team, I also appreciate and enjoy the ability to commit to the organization. And as you can imagine, I frequently get asked questions regarding my role as Head Team Physician and Chief Medical Officer for The New York City Football Club…
Often medical students and residents want to hear what it is like to be on the field or inside the locker room, what the player’s personalities are like, who is the biggest prankster, and who is the greatest teammate. Bottom line — they want to know what it takes. I know sometimes my life may seem fun to those looking in from the outside. Indeed the joy and fulfillment I get from being a Team Physician is extraordinary! But this is ultimately a life of service. Even if you’re at an important dinner, attending a close family member’s wedding, or you are fast asleep in the middle of the night, your role as a Team Physician never gets turned off. Sports Medicine is more than a job. It is a calling. The job requires immense sacrifice. But I wouldn’t have it any other way — -I am immensely grateful every time I step on the pitch with these incredible athletes and for the opportunity every day to serve them.
Christopher S. Ahmad, MD, specializes in knee ACL, meniscus, and cartilage injuries, shoulder instability and labral tears, rotator cuff pathology, Tommy John surgery, and advanced arthroscopic surgical techniques for sports-related injuries of the knee, shoulder, and elbow. He is the Head Team Physician for the New York Yankees in MLB and is a member & President-Elect of the Major League Baseball Team Physicians Association. He is also Head Team Physician for the New York City Football Club in Major League Soccer, currently MLS Eastern Conference Champions.
A recipient of several awards for outstanding research in the field of Sports Medicine, Dr. Ahmad conducts ongoing research in the areas of ACL injury prevention and screening, biomechanics of the elbow, and surgical techniques for rotator cuff and shoulder instability repair. He has authored more than 200 articles and 50 book chapters related to shoulder, knee, elbow, and sports medicine and has presented over 250 lectures nationally, and internationally.