Loons midfielder Hassani Dotson appreciates playing time but wants more of it
Torn ACL ended Dotson's season last year, but rehab has him working his way back into meaningful minutes
ST. PAUL — Given the severity of his injury in April, Hassani Dotson has tried to keep blinders on and not gaze off to the horizon.
After the Minnesota United midfielder had last season end with a torn anterior cruciate ligament, he returned as a substitute in the Loons’ season-opening 1-0 win over FC Dallas on Feb. 25.
“At that moment, I was just more focused on trying to do my role and trying to listen to the instructions the coaches gave to me,” Dotson said March 10. “It wasn’t until after the game that I really appreciated the moment to be able to go back on the field after so long away from the game.”
Going into the home opener last Saturday, manager Adrian Heath was asked whether Dotson was ready for, say, a 60-minute shift. Heath said yes but added, “That’s what he keeps telling me.”
Dotson — who is in the club’s top five in appearances since 2017 — also can’t help himself. He is itching to be a regular in the Loons’ starting 11, while also challenging for a spot on the U.S. men’s national team.
But Dotson again came off the bench last week in MNUFC’s 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls at Allianz Field. Dotson will likely find himself in a reserve role again for Saturday’s match at Colorado Rapids.
But his time is coming. United will be without central midfielders Kervin Arriaga and Joseph Rosales for next week’s home game against Vancouver. Those Hondurans will be away with their national team, and that figures to be Dotson’s opportunity to start.
During the rehab process, Dotson relied on Loons past and present for camaraderie and counsel. The list includes former teammates Ethan Finlay and Kevin Molino, who each tore ACLs during their Minnesota tenures. Those attacking midfielders reached out from Austin and Columbus, respectively.
Dotson has also heard from new veteran teammates Doniel Henry and Zarek Valentin, who have overcome their own big setbacks, as well as Portland Timbers forward Eryk Williamson.
The collective message: “to not be frustrated,” Dotson said. “Even though I was cleared, my strength would go up and down.”
Dotson’s strength has been rebuilt, but his fitness to play a full 90 minutes remains a work in progress, as well as “that 5% of explosiveness.”
While Dotson was cleared to return to games during preseason in mid-February, Heath said the club was going to take it slow with him to start the regular season. That has panned out.
Before the injury last season, Dotson started seven games. That strong start came after his wife, Petra, gave birth to their first child, daughter Gia, in January 2022. Given his work, Dotson missed out on most of her first three months. But after his surgery last spring, Dotson was able to be with his family in Portland.
“When I was around her every day, I was able to be there for those milestones,” Dotson said. “It means a lot. Obviously, it’s a blessing in disguise. She was able to help me focus on every day instead of thinking too much about the future and what that injury would or could do to my career.”
On top of being a father, Dotson paid forward the perspective he gained about being injured to younger Loons players Tani Oluwaseyi and Jason Ramos as they went through setbacks a year ago.
“We didn’t rehab together,” Oluwaseyi said. “But somehow, some way he’s now my best friend on the team. It’s worked out for both of us. I’m glad he’s back and I think him being back makes me happier than me being back.”
Dotson made his 95th appearance for the Loons last week; only Michael Boxall, Brent Kallman, Finlay and Robin Lod have played more total games since the club went to MLS in 2017. Dotson is looking to blow right past 100 but didn’t want to share any personal objectives for this season.
“I want to set goals like I’m 100% healthy,” Dotson said. “But I think for me personally it helps if I start with baby steps instead of looking at my biggest goal.”
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