Image courtesy of Minnesota United
On April 23, 2022, Minnesota United FC midfielder Hassani Dotson went down with a shriek of pain while training indoors at the National Sports Center in Blaine, MN. The training session – which was open to media – saw grim faces all turn to each other and realize it was time to exit the room after players made a circle around their teammate lying on the pitch.
Following a bright start to his 2022 campaign, a follow-up to his breakout 2021 season, Dotson tore his ACL in a non-contact drill. A season-ending injury that had repercussions for both player and team, Dotson’s “statement year” ended far too early.
The 11-month journey through recovery has seen Dotson return to near 100 percent fitness, but along the road, he learned “invaluable” experiences. The 25-year-old took both feet off the pitch and used those steps to walk into fatherhood.
The First Steps
“I was kind of in shock to figure out that it was an ACL, I was hoping for, you know, something a little less like a knee sprain,” Dotson told SotaSoccer. “It took me probably the whole evening to get over that and then it was just learning what type of surgery… what was recommended, learning about all that type of stuff.”
The injury came unexpectedly and during a time when Dotson was just starting to excel on the pitch for Minnesota. The Loons midfielder had begun the 2022 MLS season by starting and playing seven-straight matches, going a full 90 minutes in each contest. Over that stretch, he scored one goal and added two assists, with one assist coming in a crucial 1-0 win on the road against the New York Red Bulls.
In a single moment, though, all of Dotson’s progress in 2022 was halted. He couldn’t look back on what had happened, he was forced to look to what’s next.
“I didn’t even think about the year after it, I just thought about what’s the next thing I need to check off for the day, you know, like, surgery came… Okay, what do I need to do after surgery? How many quad sets?”
Following the tear of his ACL, Dotson underwent surgery in Minnesota where he was looked at for an initial two weeks. Following that two week period, he left to continue his recovery in Oregon, where both his wife and daughter resided. His time in Oregon lasted 10 weeks, and following that, his family of three moved to Minnesota in the summer of 2022.
A Blessing in Disguise
On January 31, 2022, Dotson and his wife were gifted with a daughter – their first child. On the verge of his “statement” year, Dotson became a father for the first time. However, his initial time with her was cut short due to the beginning of both preseason with the Loons and the beginning of the regular season. Dotson’s duties as a father remained, but as a professional, he was called to be with his team.
Fast-forward to April 21 and Dotson’s daughter was nearly three months old, however, what they both did not expect to happen happened: A season-ending injury, bringing Dotson closer to his family than he had ever been.
“My first child, to be able to experience that… My parents were able to create that bond from an early age with me, so (I am) very blessed to also have had that opportunity.”
Dotson’s ACL injury meant that 10-week period in Oregon would be time spent with family and time spent watching his daughter grow up every single day. With a small twinkle in his eye, you could see the Loons midfielder look back to relay those moments in his head. Dotson called it an “invaluable experience.”
“From February to May the difference in how big my daughter grew was pretty extreme. So to be able to spend the rest of the time when I wouldn’t have been able to… it was like a blessing in disguise, and even if you look at the two weeks we were gone in Florida (preseason 2023), I missed my daughter’s first steps. But I came back and she’s talking more and now she’s taking 15 steps at a time so I couldn’t imagine being away from her for three more months until they moved (summer 2022).”
The time spent with family during the initial first months of recovery proved to be crucial on his road to recovery. For the sake of his mental and physical health, Dotson was grateful for the opportunity to be around them.
“I think that because I had my wife obviously, my daughter, and a lot of people in my corner it helped me focus on things and more of the day to day life (rather) than being by myself and and staring at the wall and worrying about my recovery and how I’m going to come back from it… so I think they’re all pretty helpful for that.”
Looking Back: The Road to Recovery
Dotson was forced to watch on as the Loons up-and-down season continued. Following his absence from the pitch, the club’s form dipped, losing six out of their next 11 matches through the end of June. Then a switch flipped, where the Loons went on an 11-match win streak that extended until the final day of August.
Frustration built up after being forced to watch from the sideline, as it was both a new experience for him and a missed opportunity to help the squad during that time of need.
“Yeah, I mean, it was definitely really strange to be away from soccer and can be completely like, like I’m watching games more as a fan you know, so it’s, it’s completely different to turn off my brain for that amount of time.”
However, upon his return to Minnesota following his 10-week recovery stint in Oregon, Dotson found it “therapeutic” to be back in Minnesota around the club and his teammates.
“As soon as I came back to Minnesota – and they were expecting me to be something back some time in August… So I sent them a text just the day before and then it was I was in five days a week doing stuff and then I had like maybe a couple of things to do for my home program. It was nice to be back with a team in terms of seeing them every day. But you know, I was so far back from recovery I still felt a little bit divided, but it was nice to be able to come in, do my rehab, see the guys and watch the training – that was a little therapeutic for me.”
Recovery continued for the Loons midfielder, who began to start working towards preparation for the 2023 season.
Don’t Call it a Comeback: “I Have Full Confidence in Myself and My Abilities”
Dotson’s number one goal heading into the 2023 campaign is to “start feeling like myself” once again. Whether that’s scoring a trademark “Hassani Dotson only scores bangers” goal or re-inserting himself into the starting XI on a regular basis, Dotson has a determined mindset.
First things first, however, it’s finding his “soccer fitness” once again.
“I’ve been doing fitness on the side and with the team, but it’s different than when you have to control the ball, defend, sprint and accelerate. So my first goal would be to get those things back to normal and where I feel like I’m excelling how I was before, and then after that, I still have to break into a team because I’ve been away for nine, ten, eleven months. So… come back into the team and become a starter. Those are my goals.”
The 25-year-old is “very excited” about getting his first minutes in the 2023 regular season, and is looking to leave a mark on the technical staff with any opportunity presented.
“I have full confidence in myself and my abilities for whoever I go up against, you know, so take my opportunities and the rest will be “we’ll go from there.””
Dotson added that he has a “put yourself first” mentality when it comes to fighting for a spot in the starting XI, but acknowledges that with how long he’s been absent from the team, it’s going to be a difficult road with the midfield talent the club now has. The Midfielder is ready to “tackle” the hurdles that are put in front of him while continuing to be the “professional” he is.
“I think I was in a position where I had a big year my rookie year, then a tough second, but then I needed to have, like, a statement year. I needed to have a statement year to show, like hey, this is me – this is my position, all that type of stuff. I think going down with an injury, when you have other guys on the bench who could play or other versatile players that can play there, it’s normal for that to happen (to lose a starting spot). So, like I said, (I plan to) start from the bottom and go from the ground up and try to reestablish myself.”
Starting from the bottom is a great place to begin, because you can only move up from there. For Dotson, the target for minutes is the Loons home opener at Allianz Field on March 11 – a span of 324 days between his last action as a Loon in the regular season.
Nearly one year following the tear of his ACL, Minnesota United’s Hassani Dotson is back. The Loons midfielder is eyeing a starting spot, a few trademark Dotson “bangers” and a successful 2023 campaign.