Did JJ Williams deserve the red card?
Maybe, but there are other considerations...
In an eerily similar incident to what happened last July, JJ Williams was issued a straight red card Saturday evening for violent conduct.
Last summer JJ was playing for Atlanta United against Cincinnati. United was trailing 1-0 late in the game but attacking. Cincinnati’s Kendall Waston – who is not exactly known for his fair play, but for once wasn’t guilty of anything – appeared to have pushed JJ down in the penalty area. In that case, Waston stayed upright, but JJ kicked out at him anyway. The incident was not seen by the referee, who resorted to VAR to judge that Williams had committed violent conduct and should be sent off. JJ had played just 6 minutes in the game as a late substitute; they turned out to be the only 6 minutes he would ever play for Atlanta.
This weekend, with the Legion down 1-0 late but working on offense, JJ again went down in the box. This time the opposing player involved was Karl Ouimette, Indy Eleven’s captain. Here’s where things change a bit. Unlike Waston, Ouimette went down along with Williams. The referee, who also had no VAR support, immediately blew the whistle and reached for his back pocket. JJ was ejected again for apparently kicking an opponent.
In the first incident, the contact with Waston was minimal. In the second, Ouimette first holds JJ, then pushes him down, and finally holds him down. All of this was off the ball. The TV replays don’t give a great view of what happened on the ground, so it is very difficult to judge whether JJ did indeed kick out at Ouimette. What is clear from the replays, and something that the referee probably could not see from his angle, was that JJ’s head was slammed into the ground fairly hard. It is also possible, give when the referee blew the whistle, that his leg came up as a reaction to being knocked down so hard. Moreover, he had every right to attempt to get up, which it looked like he might have been trying to do.
Take a look at this video clip, which shows JJ going down from two separate angles:
You may need to run through it a few times to get it all, but the first angle shows JJ going down and flipping over. As he flips, his knees bend as he likely tries to get up. The second very clearly shows his head bouncing off the pitch.
Now consider this view:
Again, you’ll need to watch it a few times, concentrating on both JJ and the ref. You’ll see the ref initially signal to play on (he raises his arm) and then blows his whistle. Note exactly what JJ is doing right before the whistle. It does indeed seem that he kicked out. But from the prior video that was very possibly part of him flipping over. Another thing to spot in the video is Ryan James apparently pushing Indy’s A.J. Cochran down. Quite a lot of rough stuff going on in that play all told.
To be fair to the referee (Greg Dopka), you can understand what he saw considering his angle on the play. But should he have signaled for play to continue after JJ was taken down? As a referee myself, I believe not. Further, what Ouimette did was clearly worthy of a penalty and at a minimum a yellow card. Now, a certain amount of physical play is to be expected at any time when players are inside the 18, and especially at this stage of the game and with a 1-goal difference between the teams. Moreover, Dopka had allowed pretty physical play to proceed all evening. It should have been clear to all concerned just what would allowed to pass. Ouimette may have overstepped that a bit but he was evidently aware of what was being judged permissible. JJ on the other hand, had already had pretty harsh words with Dopka and should have known he was on thin ice. And when you go down in the box, you stay down. And in this case, clutch your head in agony.
This leaves the Legion with a decision to make. With Junior Flemmings still serving a suspension, and JJ Williams now out, they are relatively thin up front for the game at Louisville City this Saturday. Should they challenge JJ’s red card? This early in the season, I think the answer to that is no. Take your lumps and keep your challenges for deeper into the season.