Williams Proves Quality in First Start

20-year-old Williams adjusting quickly to new club, role

If ever evidence is needed to
support the value of Philadelphia Union’s partnership with the Harrisburg
City Islanders, Sheanon Williams provided it on Saturday night. Williams
started and played the full 90 minutes at right back in a 1-0 win over the
Chicago Fire, less than two weeks after joining Manager Peter Nowak’s side from
the club’s USL PRO affiliate.

Williams may have simply been
filling a void on the backline left by the injured Juan Diego González,
but the impact of his first career start was felt nonetheless. The 20-year-old exhibited plenty of pace, enabling him to push forward on numerous occasions and track back in
time to avoid being victimized by Chicago’s counter. After goalkeeper Brad Knighton
lost a battle for possession with Patrick Nyarko at the edge of the box in the
65
th minute, there was Williams at the near post to knock the
subsequent service away from danger. The rookie’s throw-ins were also
a weapon, with one rifle in the 10
th minute nearly
leading to a goal.

A natural attacker, Williams is still adjusting to
life in the back, but Nowak was obviously pleased enough with his progress in
training to insert him into the lineup for a critical Eastern Conference
showdown.   

“It was a game day decision and
Sheanon did very well the whole time during practice with us and he can play
this position,” Nowak said after Saturday’s victory. “Of course, with Juan being
out right now with the injury (there was an opportunity). He was quite
effective.”

“Sometimes the play is a little
too fast for him, but he is very young and he is going to develop in the right
way. He is a very young man and has good qualities. [Coach John] Hackworth
knows him very well from previous years, and we are fortunate to add him to our
roster with the cooperation of the Islanders.”

Hackworth is familiar with
Williams from the U.S. Under-17 National Team Residency Program, where the
youngster played in two youth World Cups for the United States: the U-17 World
Cup in Korea (2007) and the U-20 World Cup in Egypt (2009). No experience
could’ve fully prepared him for his first MLS start, but Williams more than
held his own after playing a full season in USL-2 (which has since been merged
with USL-1 to form USL PRO).

“The level is a lot higher
(than it was in USL-2) and the play is quicker,” Williams told
philadelphiaunion.com on Monday. “You just have to try to step up and try to
get on the level with all the rest of the players and just be aware and do the
little things right.

“(The first start) was good. It
just took a little while to settle in. I started to get more comfortable as the
game went on and started to get better.”

Saturday’s start was the culmination of a smooth assimilation process, with Williams adjusting well both to the
caliber of play in MLS and his new surroundings.

“It’s been really great,” he
said. “The guys, they’ve all helped me out - just little things and giving me little
pointers and everything. Everybody’s just been a real help; the coaching
staff, the medical staff, everybody here has acted like I’ve been here the
whole time. It’s just been great.”

Despite playing in the second
half of a friendly against Chivas Guadalajara, nothing compared to seeing his
name in the starting XI for a regular season match.

“(The technical staff) just put
the names up on the board and my name was up at right back,” Williams said. “I
was nervous and excited, but it was good to see that coach had enough
confidence in me. It was exciting. We had a full house and everybody was really
supportive and the Sons of Ben were going crazy like always so it was good.”

Adding a promising young player
already capable of playing at a starter’s level can only be a good thing for a
club that was stocked with young talent well before his arrival. What’s more,
as well as Williams played on Saturday, his age and limited experience as a
defender suggest considerable room for improvement.

“I’ve played forward for a lot
of years and then got switched to right back (with the Union),” Williams said.
“It’s been a pretty good transition and I’ve adjusted pretty well to it. There’s
always stuff to work on playing out of the back, and being more comfortable on
the ball is definitely something that I’d like to get better at and keep
improving.”

With González’s
status uncertain for Wednesday’s match against San Jose, Williams may soon
receive another dose of on-the-job training. With one career MLS start to his
name and no goals allowed under his watch, the second former Islander on
Philadelphia’s roster is focused on helping his new club secure three vital
points.

“We’re just trying to do
the little things and trying to get shutouts,” he said. “That’ll give us a chance
to get points in these next few games and, you know, we definitely need them
for a push to the playoffs. Obviously we’d like to be in the playoffs fighting
for the MLS Cup in our first year, which would be an amazing accomplishment for
the team.”

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