Galaxy forward Chad Barrett will not play in Sunday's MLS Cup final… (Bob Levey / Getty Images )
There was just a minute left in an otherwise routine midweek practice, a minute Galaxy forward Chad Barrett had the option of spending on the sideline.
Instead, he stayed on the pitch, taking a pass and turning to race upfield. And that's when everything went terribly wrong, with Barrett's cleats catching in the wet grass, twisting his right ankle grotesquely and dumping him to the turf.
"I've never seen anything like that in person," teammate Todd Dunivant said. "That's unsettling when you see that."
Especially for Barrett, who saw his season end a few practices short of the Major League Soccer Cup final Sunday night against the Houston Dynamo at the Home Depot Center.
"It's hard to put into words," Barrett said Thursday of his disappointment. "I shed a couple of tears in the ambulance. It's all I've been playing for. This is my MLS Cup finals. The biggest stage I've ever been on."
But if the freak accident left a hole in Barrett's heart it also left a hole in the Galaxy attack. Barrett, a seven-year MLS veteran out of UCLA, is second on the team with seven goals this season. Plus the Galaxy went 11-1-0 in games in which he had either a goal or an assist. They were 8-4-10 in games in which he didn't contribute to the scoring.
"Our whole season's been like this," said Galaxy Coach Bruce Arena, who has lost six starters to injury at various points this season. "Whenever we need to replace a player, the next guy steps up and gets the job done. So we have plenty of options."
Among the best of those options is pairing physical veteran Adam Cristman with Robbie Keane up front. Arena could also push either Landon Donovan or Mike Magee forward and fill the vacant midfield spot with Chris Birchall.
The Dynamo will be dealing with serious injury problems of its own Sunday after losing league MVP candidate Brad Davis, a play-making winger, to a torn quadriceps in the first half of the conference championship.
Houston is likely to replace Davis as it did in its playoff win against Kansas City, moving speedy Corey Ashe to the midfield then filling his left back spot with Jermaine Taylor.
Those moves paid off with two second-half goals in a 2-0 win.
"We are going to replace him. We can't play with 10," Coach Dominic Kinnear joked Thursday, only to be contradicted by his captain, forward Brian Ching.
"You can't replace Brad," Ching said of Davis, who led the league with 16 assists, then notched two more in the playoffs. "MVP of our team. Potential MVP of the league.
"Having said all that, we've always been a team. No one player in bigger than the team."
As for Barrett, who spent practice Thursday sitting next to his crutches on an overstuffed brown sofa in the Galaxy players' lounge, the realization that he's out of the title game is beginning to sting a little more with each passing day.
"I'm starting to feel a bit more sad about the whole thing," he said. "I'd really like to be a part of the final game with the guys. But as a teammate all I can do now is just put on my best face and make sure that the guys know that I'm behind them."
In some respects, Barrett said, he was lucky. The injury was so severe, the pop was audible more than 15 years away. And the swelling and discoloration were so horrific, he keeps a picture taken by a team trainer on his cellphone.
Yet tests confirmed there were no fractures and no ligament damage, meaning he may be well enough to ditch his crutches by the weekend.
"So many bad things could have happened," he said. "But precautions were taken. The ambulance guys were great. Except one fireman.
"One fireman said, 'Oh yeah, that's broken. You're never playing again.' I was like, 'Who brought this guy?'"