Nearly every Tampa Bay Mutiny player likes for one of two team massage therapists to help him work the kinks out.
Fresh off the practice field, Joe Addo slowly makes his way into a brightly lit office deep inside Raymond James Stadium.
When Addo, a defender for the Tampa Bay Mutiny, hits Tricia French's massage table, his body is a toolbox of high tensile steel. By the time French is done, Addo could be carried out in a butter dish.
"This is Joe's first time on my table," says French, one of two licensed massage therapists who keep Mutiny players in limber, soccer shape. French drives from Holiday in Pasco County several days a week to rub out the muscular wrinkles of these Type A athletes.
Monique Andersen, who owns Oasis Therapeutic Massage in New Tampa, is also on staff and also sees a number of players at her office at the Pebble Creek Connection.
Addo asks French to work on his legs. At 6 feet and 165 pounds, Addo is almost all legs. Because Addo is new to the team, French engages him in chit-chat about other places he has played as she slowly kneads his calves and thighs.
"In Europe, massage is compulsory," says Addo, a native of Ghana who has played in Germany, Holland Italy and Portugal. "Twice a week."
The Mutiny has no rules about getting a massage, but the smart players, the players who want to be their injury-free best, need no convincing.
"Without massage, your legs will be tighter and you'll get injured very easily," Addo says. "I can play as long as I can walk. But if I cannot walk, I cannot play."
A real knead
As the Mutiny practices in the rain Thursday morning, a light workout because of a Friday game against Colorado, Alan Prampin does not participate in the spirited scrimmage.
Prampin spends his morning running around the perimeter of the field, getting back in shape after a groin injury that has plagued him much of the season.
"Massage actually helps," Prampin says, lying on his back on the wet turf as a coach pushed his left leg in a stretching exercise. "I got massages like twice a week last year and I was injury-free. I'm hoping it will help the healing process. Sports massage is something professional athletes really need."
Asked when he hopes to come back to playing form, Prampin says, "That's a good question. Groin injuries vary. It can take eight weeks, two months." Then with a rueful laugh Prampin said, "Sometimes it's a year and a half."
The players begin to leave the field and French, a native of London who was born "Catholic and a Manchester United fan," greets her willing victims.
"There's the lads," she says. "A motley crew, aren't they?"
The players who regularly come to French for treatment include Scott Garlick, Chad McCarty, Raul Diaz-Arce and Musa Shannon. "Actually, every single one of them get massage," French says. "Except Josh Keller, but he's going to be a victim soon."
Table hogs and big kids
The Mutiny's head trainer, Holly Karol, said massage therapists help her deal with the steady flow of bumps, bangs and bruises the players suffer in their very physical sport.
"Between Monique and Tricia, the guys have ample opportunity for massage, and that's very helpful to me," Karol said. "The guys can come in and get treatment with me _ for muscle strains, chronic cramping with hamstrings, calves and lower back _ then Monique and Tricia come in and deal with Chad's hip flexor. It's a nice complement. It helps loosen them up before we play and helps them cool down when they're done."
Some of the players avail themselves of the service religiously.
"Raul Diaz has to have one after every game," French says. "He'll keep the press waiting until he gets his massage."
Both of the massage therapists have worked with the Mutiny the past two seasons and Andersen said her entree to the team came by working with midfielder Scott Ralston.
"He actually came in here on his own," Andersen says. "A couple of days later I had a contract. It was amazing."
Andersen says that much of her work is geared toward helping players prevent and recover from injuries. But some of her player-clients simply enjoy the experience, sometimes seeking 60 minute or longer sessions.
"We call them table hogs," French says, laughing.
Besides soothing their aching muscles, French says she and Andersen help with mental decompression, too.
"As a massage therapist, you give of yourself every time you give a massage," French says.
"You're almost a psychologist," Andersen chimes in. "Things get shared with you. You bond with these guys. They're kids, really. Like big kids to us. They're a very special bunch of guys."
Later, on the table, Addo pays French the highest compliment she can get.
"It's very relaxing," Addo says dreamily as French continues making butter of his muscles. "You guys need to try this."