CHESTER, Pa. – Whether it’s their fullbacks galloping forward down the wing or their center backs battling for position on offensive set pieces, Philadelphia Union defenders have always been an important part of the team’s attack.
But in the past few weeks, right back Sheanon Williams has seemed to take that idea to an even higher level.
This past Sunday, the Union’s talented 22-year-old defender drew the penalty that set up Philly’s game-winning goal in a 3-1 victory over Houston. That came a week after Williams netted the club’s only goal in a 1-1 draw with Toronto. And in the game before that, the right back took a team-high four shots, including two on net, in a scoreless draw with New England.
Why has Williams been so heavily involved with the offense recently?
“I think with our offensive struggles, everyone is just trying to do their part and make sure we put ourselves in good positions to help our forwards out,” Williams told MLSsoccer.com. “Obviously they’ve got to get provided with service for them to score, and I’ve been trying to do that. And I’ve also been finding myself in some pretty good spots and it’s led to some good things.”
The Union – who didn’t get a goal from an attacking player during an eight-game winless streak that only got snapped Sunday – certainly needed an offensive boost. And that’s one reason why Hackworth decided to put Williams into the box on corner kicks, where he was dragged down by Houston’s André Hainault early in the second half of Sunday’s game to set up a penalty-kick goal from Freddy Adu.
“The ball was actually coming my way and my eyes got pretty big,” Williams said. “I would like to think I would have scored it myself but then I felt someone football-tackle me from behind and I thought it was a clear PK.”
That play was obviously critical in the Union’s win. But for Hackworth, another play from the game stood out, something that also showed Williams’ increased offensive initiative.
“He went to pressure the ball up the field from the left back position,” Hackworth recalled. “He jumped by the midfield and jumped by Freddy [Adu] and Josué [Martinez] at the same time to pressure [Houston goalkeeper] Tally Hall and force him into taking a kick quickly, which he put up in the air. That kind of action is so important.
“There are little moments in the games – I call them critical moments – that are so important and everyone on the team feeds off of. And when Sheanon does that, we’re a different team altogether. It’s something we desperately need on this team.”
Williams is happy to oblige. Getting in on the attack, after all, is something he loves to do.
“I’m lucky that I have a coach that lets me do what I want to do and go forward within our system,” he said. “That’s big for me.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.