The uneven start to Juninho Pernambucano’s Major League Soccer career took an unexpected twist on Wednesday, though you’re going to read two distinct interpretations of this incident as it’s discussed in the coming days. Some people are going to focus on Juninho’s transgression. Others will dwell on the piece of impromptu theater Jimmy Nielsen performed at Red Bull Arena.
Let’s set the scene. It’s late in Harrison, and for almost 80 minutes, the Red Bulls have been trying to equalize Sporting’s 13th minute opener. Ahead of a late goal kick, Juninho goes to flip the ball back to Nielsen and decides to put a little extra on it. The ball ends up nailing Nielsen right below the collarbone, earning the Red Bull midfielder a straight red card.
As a television lawyer might say, those facts are undisputed. The different interpretations start with Juninho’s intentions. A sympathetic sort might think Juninho just tried pop the ball up by coming down underneath it. When he got too much of the ball, he inadvertently fires his “chip” into Nielsen’s chest.
That’s a reach given Juninho’s skill level. What’s more likely: That he hit the ball at Nielsen out of frustration with the keeper’s time-wasting? Or he mishit the ball and it happened to end up in the guy’s chest?
Given Nielsen’s response, you can see some people wishing the latter were true. The guy collapses, rolls around as if the ball nailed him in the face. It sure doesn’t look that way in the replay, though Nielsen does take Juninho’s attempt to avoid time-wasting and turns it against him. His act gets Juninho tossed and leaves the clock running for nearly two minutes, time Allen Chapman thankfully added at the end.
No doubt, whether he intended it or not, that’s a red card for Juninho. But seeing those shots of Nielsen lying on his side, eyes closed as if he just got George John’d, you can’t help but feel a little frustrated by the farce.
Juninho was going to get red carded, and any time you spend on the ground is just going to get tacked on at the end. Just get up already.
Here’s the footage: