Eighteen months after he tore his right ACL in an innocuous training session and eight months after he returned to action in this season's opener, Minnesota United midfielder Hassani Dotson is back.
Better than back, Loons coach Adrian Heath contends.
"It's not just the eye test or the physical data he's producing," Heath said. "He looks as strong as well, as quick as ever. I actually think he has been our best player the last three, four weeks."
Dotson has even branched out over the past five weeks, starting at a left-side attacker role rather than his natural central midfield position. He has mostly played there since the Loons brought back central midfielder Ján Gregus during the Leagues Cup break and soon thereafter moved him into a starter's spot alongside captain Wil Trapp.
That sent Dotson farther up the field, a change supporting Heath's claims that such a versatile player can play almost anywhere.
"I can't think of a position we played him where he hasn't done well," Heath said. "He played right back and was the best player on the field last year. I've said it a million times about him: he's got a real feel for the game, no matter where he plays. He understands his role and his responsibility in the group. He's a quality footballer. I'm not surprised he has done well."
Dotson considers the attacking position "a little different one" that requires some creativity.
"You don't get the ball maybe as much," he said. "It's something I've played in training. I like to study the game, so once I get in a rhythm, I think I can play there."
At age 26, he calls himself "pretty proud" of his recovery that had him back after a winter's rehabilitation in a regular-season game a year after the surgery — and eight more months' strengthening he said has him as fit and healthy as he's ever been.
And happy, with his young daughter Gia at home always awaiting.
"She's my escape, my little bundle of joy," Dotson said. "There were a lot of ups and downs through the whole process. When I look back on it, it'll be a season I can remember for the rest of my career. It was a bunch of long days and a lot of hard work. But I'm happy where I am now."
He has scored twice this season, once in 30 regular season games and another in a Leagues Cup game. He scored in a 2-2 draw with Real Salt Lake in late June and again in penalty kicks at Columbus in a Leagues Cup round of 16 game.
He's still waiting for his next "banger," a powerful strike from distance that was something of his signature earlier in his career.
"He's got that in his locker," Heath said.
Dotson has come close to delivering another.
"But not close enough," Dotson said. "I feel like the game is slowing down a little bit for me. I'm not quite happy I didn't put my one or two chances away. The biggest thing is creating chances. Whether I'm passing the ball or getting shots for myself, I hold myself to a high standard. Even if it's a half chance, I expect to score."
So, too, does Heath.
"He hasn't had as many shots as he should have," Heath said. "We showed him a few chances when he has it out of his feet at the 18-yard box. He's a great striker of the ball so we'd like him to be a little more selfish."