After a much-needed offseason, Sheanon Williams returned to the Philadelphia Union looking refreshed.
Last season is completely in the rearview mirror and will remain that way.
This is a new start with a lot of new faces and a whole lot of optimism.
“To be honest, I haven’t really thought about last year too much,” Williams said after a recent training session. “I’m thinking about this season and what we need to do. We had a lot of changes in the offsesaon and our core guys are mostly back.
“We’re just trying to improve and get on the same page. We want to get off to a good start and for the first time in four years, we’ll be able to open the season at home (March 2 against Sporting Kansas City). That’s exciting to me and it’s important that we get off to a good start. We’re just trying to get better every day in training and I think the guys are getting comfortable with one another. Last year is behind us and we have a lot to look forward to this season.”
The 22-year-old Williams started 28 matches last season and had one goal and two assists.
While the Union didn’t qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs, he did experience that feeling two years ago in a two-match aggregate loss to the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
In MLS, things can change that quickly. For the Union, it’s about reversing course from last season.
No player is more passionate about accomplishing this feat than Williams, uber-feisty and one of the hungriest players in the league.
“Everybody here is focused on improving and that starts now as we move to First Kick,” Williams said. “Guys are training really hard and I think everyone is focused and on the same page because we know we want to go. For me, I think six weeks of preseason is enough. Everyone is just itching to play. In the first game, nerves are there, but we’ll be at home.
“The offseason is over and I know guys are itching to play and get outside. The sooner the better.”
On the backline, Williams has already witnessed some changes. Carlos Valdes is no longer here. Enter Jeff Parke. Welcome back Bakary Soumare. Amobi Okugo and Gabriel Farfan are still in the middle of the action.
Whatever the technical staff decides, there will be talented players guarding the net.
“I think that there have been good changes,” Williams said. “With everything that happened last year, I was able to play some centerback when Danny [Califf] left. Amobi played centerback. Through the years, we’ve had good backlines here. For us, it’s next man up. Baky is really good and he knows our system, what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it. We have Gabe and myself. Amobi is very good. We have Jeff coming in and he brings so much experience. We have a foundation set and there’s a lot of experience at our position.
“I think it’s going to be exciting to see how it develops.”
Williams is excited to see how the club develops under manager John Hackworth, who took over for Peter Nowak, first on an interim basis last June and then for good in August.
“I think it’ll help being here in charge from the start and he’ll get to put his imprint on the team,” Williams said. “He’ll show us how he wants us to play and the style he wants us to play. I think having that impact from the start of training makes a huge difference.”
Having enough veteran players back also makes a huge difference. Midfielder Brian Carroll has been named the captain, but other players will certainly step up and lead by example.
“BC is our captain and everyone will follow his leadership,” Williams said. “The more players that help, the better. For me, I’m a player that kind of leads by example. If any of the younger guys ever want to come to me for advice, I’m happy to help them out. I think we have players who play hard and lead by how they play. It’s good for the young guys to see that.”
The young guys will see a veteran like Williams playing with intensity all the time. He’s anxious to get going in 2013 and forget all about 2012.
“It’s a new start and we’re all itching to play as I said,” Williams said. “I can’t wait for First Kick.”
Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at email@example.com