In a condensed and demanding season unlike any other, it took a collision with a goalpost and an ensuing 11-stitch leg laceration to get Minnesota United veteran defender Michael Boxall off the pitch.
Until he slammed into that post against Colorado late last month, Boxall played all 1,710 minutes in a season beset for other teammates with injuries, COVID-19 absences or national team recalls.
Boxall was injured in an unsuccessful lunge to save a tying goal in the 70th minute of a 2-1 victory over Colorado won on a very late own goal on Oct. 28. The team’s athletic trainer simply wrapped up his knee and he played on until game’s end.
“I wouldn’t recommend it,” Boxall said about the collision of man and metal. “I don’t think too many win that match.”
He missed the final two games in a regular season through which he also played partly with a separated shoulder but declares himself fit and ready for Sunday’s first-round home playoff game against that same Colorado team.
“As long as Adrian picks me, I’ll be ready,” Boxall said.
Loons coach Adrian Heath calls Boxall low-maintenance, underrated, one of his club’s most athletic players and best leaders as well as a player who “epitomizes everything good about professional football.”
Boxall is doing all that at 6-2 and age 32 on a defensive back line he has anchored since two-time MLS Defender of the Year Ike Opara’s season ended in June.
He has done so with a body reinvigorated and a life discovered. He credits an offseason training program he follows diligently and wife Libby’s collagen supplements for a youthful bounce. He attributes his growing family — with 3-year-old daughter Maxwell and 2-month-old son Beau — with bringing a newfound balance to his life.
“I don’t feel 32, especially the way I can recover quickly and feel better than I did in my mid-20s,” he said. “I remember being 28, 29 playing a game and not being able to walk because I was so sore after games. I think now my body feels younger. My mind-set the last few years is: You have such a short time in the game while you’re at it, put all you can into it.
“Knowing I’ve done that puts me in a place now where I’m just in a good head space, where I can just perform consistently.”
If his body feels younger, his mind has matured with a new view as husband and father seen through his young children’s eyes.
“It helps coming home to the family, where they can take your mind away from the game and keep you grounded, really,” Boxall said. “Some people have hobbies, families, businesses on the side. Having something is important. Otherwise, your whole world is pretty much football, football, football and whether you have a good or bad day is always dependent on the result of a game that is so much outside your control.”
He returned to MLS in 2017, signing with the Loons midway through their inaugural season — and six years after the New Zealander played a season in Vancouver. He has been a Loon longer than anyone except Kevin Molino and Brent Kallman, who calls Boxall a “machine” and “massive” because of his durability and improvement season after season.
When Boxall lost his battle with the goalpost, Kallman couldn’t believe his eyes. “I was like, ‘What?’ Kallman said. “This can’t happen.”
Veteran midfielder Ethan Finlay praises the continuity Boxall provides at his position among newcomers Bakaye Dibassy and Jose Aja as well as Kallman. He also notes how Boxall remains in his prime, as center backs go.
“You look around the world and there’s a lot center backs in their mid-30s,” Finlay said, mentioning Arsenal’s David Luiz. “It’s a position that’s based so much on experience and understanding. Sometimes with your intelligence, you can make up what you lack even if you lose a step or two.
“Not that Boxy’s there by any means.”