A rash of injuries among Minnesota United FC soccer players during the spring season made the training room a place for playing the blues.
Hampered by a knee sprain and hamstring issues, forward Max Griffin rehabilitated both amid the low hum of electro stimulation machines and the crunch of shifting ice bags before he decided to add his own soundtrack.
Griffin, a solid ukulele player, discovered that reserve goalkeeper Peter McKeown played guitar and approached him about jamming in the training room. That led the duo to pass their rehab time playing songs such as Green Day’s “Good Riddance (Time of Your Life),” “Wonderwall” by Oasis and “I’ve Just Seen a Face” by The Beatles.
Griffin learned much more than the ukulele while attending UCLA. Halfway through what was becoming a tremendous sophomore season, he tore his ACL and missed the Bruins’ run to the NCAA championship game. Worse, he feared his career was about to fade.
Griffin said he “lifted myself up” mentally, got back on the field and finished as one of the Bruins’ top 10 leaders in career goals.
Such mental resolve also saw Griffin through an injury-plagued spring season with Minnesota. Healthy again for the fall season, Griffin has found his rhythm and shown an immediate offensive upside with points in two of the first three games.
Scoring is not the only measure of Griffin’s contributions.
“He brings a lot of energy and he never, never quits on a play,” defender Connor Tobin said. “Because he continually works, he’ll pop up in the right moment and get the assist or goal.”
United coach Manny Lagos said Griffin is “still building his way into the type of player we know he is. He’s really smart off the ball up top in terms of creating space and getting open.”
Relentless energy and mental toughness, two of Griffin’s hallmarks, are qualities Minnesota needs to capture the fall season title. Hurt many times this season by allowing goals in critical moments of games, Minnesota turned the tables last week at San Antonio when Tobin scored a stoppage time goal that clinched a 3-2 victory.
“A win like that can really lift the spirits of everyone and give you a lift into the next week of training,” Tobin said. “But we’re starting from square one on Saturday and have to prove it all over again.”
Minnesota remains tied for fourth in the eight-team North American Soccer League but is only three points out of first. Such parity means every week is a battle, and Lagos expects nothing less from Edmonton.
“We’ve played well at times, but we’ve also mentally lost our way at times, and that has caused us to be inconsistent,” Lagos said. “This is a big weekend at home in terms of showing that we’re building on that big win.”
Griffin likewise hopes to take his message of mental toughness to a larger audience. He has developed and trademarked a wristband-like product called Motiband, which can be personalized with “anything that motivates an athlete to play well,” from a number to a Bible verse.
“It’s one of the main themes of my life,” Griffin said. “As long as you have a tough mentality, you can get through anything.”
As a ukulele player, Griffin’s training room performances have impressed, as well.
But Tobin, asked to rank his teammate among the all-time greats, gave him room to improve. “I lived eight years in Hawaii so he’s pretty far down the list,” Tobin said.