Bert Mandelbaum, MD, medical director of the FIFA Medical Center of Excellence, Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute, and associate chief medical officer of Major League Soccer, has been providing medical care to the U.S. men’s national soccer team for nearly three decades.
And this year, Mandelbaum is back on the field in Doha, Qatar, for FIFA World Cup 2022.
“I've been to World Cup 1994, 1998, 2000 to 2006, and 2010,” said Mandelbaum. “We didn't make the World Cup in 2018, unfortunately, so this is a big deal. This is the first time we're getting back in eight years, and we are excited.”
Mandelbaum sat down with the Cedars-Sinai Newsroom to discuss his involvement at the World Cup through the years, what to expect and why World Cup 2022 is significant for the young Team USA.
Newsroom: What is it like to be a team physician for the U.S. men’s team during World Cup 2022?
Mandelbaum: When you go with a team to the World Cup–and this has been an experience I've had multiple times since 1994–you are really the team doctor 24/7.
In the early morning, the team doctors–there are three of us–wake up with the team, and then at night, we go to sleep when the team does. We do it all as a team.
Soccer is a very fast-moving sport. It's 90 minutes with two 45-minute halves. The clock doesn't stop for an injury, and people can't be substituted in and out like in other sports.
Things happen very quickly, and as team physicians, we need to be able to make health assessments and diagnoses very rapidly on the field–whether the athlete is injured, whether or not they need to stay in the game or need to come out, etc.
We really must know who those 11 players are, along with the players on the bench. We have to know their weaknesses and strengths and be able to anticipate the problems before they occur.
Newsroom: What types of injuries are you watching for during the game?
Mandelbaum: The most common problems we see are muscle injuries. That's true of almost all professional sports–baseball, football, and basketball.
It's all about a hamstring and other muscle injuries that occur quite rapidly. These represent the largest burden of things that we see as team doctors managing a World Cup team.
We also treat bumps, lumps, scrapes, and head injuries, like concussions.
Regardless of the injury, we are prepared to manage a spectrum of injuries.
Newsroom: What is medical care like in Doha, Qatar?
Mandelbaum: In every stadium there is an “emergency action plan,” which includes working with the local organizing medical groups. Stretcher crews and the respective medical teams liaise with the ambulance providers.
We constantly are training and practicing what to do if a player goes down, is unconscious or needs to be transported to the hospital.
Cedars-Sinai also has medical relationships in Doha. Most people don't know that we have a relationship with a hospital called The View Hospital in Doha.
The World Cup, like the Olympics, is a global event. It’s an event that entails all shapes and sizes, all places around the world, coming together right here, at the World Cup, in Doha.
Newsroom: Why is this World Cup significant for you?
Mandelbaum: I've had this experience since 1994 and being part of the team's medical team—it never gets old.
This preparation, however, has been a phenomenon punctuated by COVID-19.
We've had all kinds of issues to deal with: training in a bubble, playing in a bubble, and COVID-19 testing. I can't tell you the hundreds of times I've been tested, and players have been tested, and the staff. It’s been quite a two-year process.
We have a lot of very talented players and we are a young team, so it’s exciting to see the culmination of two years of consistent hard work.
The World Cup is the largest event for athletes in the world; it’s where the sport of life and the life of sport come together in the game of humanity.
Read more from the Cedars-Sinai Blog: Cedars-Sinai Leaders Welcome Consul General of Qatar