OBETZ, Ohio — With only minutes remaining during training on Sept. 3, Columbus Crew defender Josh Williams took a stray shot to the face similar to others he had suffered countless times.
But this one had unfortunate consequences.
“There have been shots like that or crosses and things like that have hit me in the face, and it stings and you just kind of run it off,” Williams told MLSsoccer.com after Tuesday’s training. “I think it just hit me in the right spot, and it was point-blank, and I didn't see it coming. I think it was just one of those fluke accidents.”
Williams said he “blacked out” on the grass for a moment and quickly stormed off the practice field.
“I got back up, and I immediately knew what happened,” Williams said. “I just didn't feel right. I was mad at the time; I hope no one thought I was mad at them or anything. It was the day before the game.”
Eventually it was determined that Williams, who had started 24 of the Crew's 26 games at the time, suffered a concussion on the play. Three weeks later, Williams’ return to the field is still in question as he follows MLS concussion protocol.
This is not the first time Williams has dealt with a head injury – he missed a game last season after catching an accidental elbow from Sporting Kansas City forward C.J. Sapong – but he said this is "definitely" more serious than that injury. In the days immediately following the concussion, the difference hit him as soon as he woke up.
"It was more of a fog,” Williams said. “I would wake up. and something was just off. Obviously, I wasn't going to lie about it or anything. I wanted to be as truthful as I could. With all of the tests going on, I know it's a pretty serious thing, so I definitely wanted to be upfront and honest with [the Crew medical staff] about it.”
During his initial recovery, Williams was not allowed to practice, work out, or even use his cell phone or television.
“I think they just want to shut your brain down as much as you can,” he said. “It was definitely a lonely time. It was good that I had my dog to keep me entertained. We've had a lot of staring contests over the last two weeks.”
Since then, Williams has been trying to return to full speed, but he is only beginning to try a normal practice schedule. After being off the field for so long, he says that at this point, the health of his body is far behind his head.
“That's the weird thing: two weeks off of not doing anything – I had to shut myself down – and I feel stiff,” he said. “I was talking to the trainers and said, 'This isn't right.' I've never sat on my butt for two weeks. I'm a pretty active guy. … I wouldn't even put myself in a situation to play right now.”
Williams continues to take concussion tests, though he says he is nearly finished with them. He has increased his heading distance from six to 12 yards, and he expects to be up to 18 yards next. He has also been taking congnitive tests that involve various shapes and questions, and as part of the league's concussion protocol, his scores must begin to resemble those he tallied on a baseline test at the beginning of the season before he can see the field in a game.
As of now, he says that if his body felt as good as his head, he would be playing, and neither interim head coach Brian Bliss nor Williams has ruled him out for Sunday’s trip to FC Dallas.
“It’s really hard to tell,” Williams said. “It’s a toss-up right now.”