Kerith Gabriel: Union's Sheanon Williams sees big things this year
IT'S ONLY March, but 2012 has already been quite the year for Sheanon Williams. After a breakthrough 2011 season, the Union rewarded its defender with a 3-year contract, which sources say is worth considerably more than the $42,000 in league-minimum compensation he took home last season. In addition, Williams received an impromptu call-up on Tuesday to the U.S. under-23 national team, which opened its Olympic qualifying campaign Thursday night against CONCACAF foe Cuba in Nashville.
IT'S ONLY March, but 2012 has already been quite the year for Sheanon Williams.
After a breakthrough 2011 season, the Union rewarded its defender with a 3-year contract, which sources say is worth considerably more than the $42,000 in league-minimum compensation he took home last season. In addition, Williams received an impromptu call-up on Tuesday to the U.S. under-23 national team, which opened its Olympic qualifying campaign Thursday night against CONCACAF foe Cuba in Nashville.
The Daily News caught up with Williams on Thursday afternoon during a break in the action that has become his life, asking his thoughts on the state of the Union, his role and what supporters don't know - but should.
Daily News: You've had a lot of changes in the past few months, not just in your career but in your life. What's that been like?
Sheanon Williams: It's definitely been an exciting year, one that has definitely made a lot of changes in my life, so it's been a lot of fun for me.
DN: What are some of these changes?
SW: I have a family now and to have that stability, knowing I am going to be in Philly and not guessing about my career, is a huge weight that has been lifted. I love the situation here in Philadelphia and this is where I wanted to be, so I am just happy.
DN: Talk about getting the Olympic call-up, or recall, since you were previously in camps earlier this year. Were you as shocked as Peter Nowak was to hear it?
SW: I was shocked. It had come out that I wasn't going to be involved (with the U-23s) and I was fine with that. I was going to concentrate on my role in Philly, so to get a call and have to leave the next day was definitely surprising for me. But it's a great honor for me to represent my country, so (as a player) you have to be happy about that.
DN: How big of a deal is it for you personally, to potentially be headed to your first Olympics?
SW: This is something that you always think about and is always in the back of your mind, so again it would definitely be a great honor if that's what ends up happening from all of this.
DN: Your absence carries with it a big void in the defense for the Union at a crucial time in the season. Coach Nowak calls it a "drastic loss." How do you see it?
SW: It's definitely hard to leave your teammates, but they all understand. I wish I could be there with them, but it's going to be a quick time here and then I'll be back, so hopefully we can still build off the momentum we had in the Colorado game. Even though we lost, there were a lot of positives in that game and there is something to be said for that.
DN: Some supporters are already jumping off the ship after the second game. What are your thoughts of fans' expectations and do you think so far the Union has let that fan base down?
SW: This is Philadelphia and I know people's expectations are always high here when it comes to sports teams. In our case, especially after coming off of last year, it has to be a shock to see us struggling. So you know I understand their frustrations, but it's a long season. We still have what, 32 games left? It's definitely not the end of the world. I could see if we were 15 games in and were 0-15, yeah, there would be cause for concern. I think that we're in a good spot; we are trying to find form and things will turn around.
You look at teams last year that started off poorly, a good case is Kansas City and how they managed to turn it around and almost made it to the finals last year. I can tell you I'm not worried and no one within our locker room is worried.
(Note: Sporting Kansas City started off 1-6-3 in its first 10 games last season and made it to the Eastern Conference semifinals, losing to Houston.)
DN: But, Sheanon, you have to admit the turnover rate brings about some cause for concern. Being with the club for over a year now, how frustrating does that get, if at all?
SW: When you think about it, every team every year has three or four new guys, there's going to be new guys every season and guys that don't come back, it's just how soccer works. The important thing is getting acclimated with the guys you do have as quickly as possible and that's what we are working on. We aren't trying to look back, we are looking forward. Look, there is nothing I can or anyone can do about the players that are gone. I am concerned only about winning games with the guys currently in my locker room. Trust me, the rest will work itself out.
No. 5 magazine, the monthly soccer publication spearheaded by Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand, has a behind-the-scenes section titled Players Lounge. Last month, the mag profiled Tottenham midfielder Rafael Van der Vaart. When asked what he would be if he wasn't a soccer player, Van der Vaart quipped, "probably a virgin."
SHOTS ON GOAL
Upcoming game: Union (0-2-0, 0 points) at Chicago (0-0-1, 1 point)
When: Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.
TV: The Comcast Network
On the web: Streaming online at MLSSoccer.com
For kicks: After a loss in its home opener Sunday, the Union head to Chicago as the opponent for the Fire's home opener at Toyota Park - designed by Rossetti Architects, the same company that designed PPL Park . . . Chicago earned a tie in its first match against expansion club Montreal . . . German international Arne Friedrich joined the Fire this week and the veteran defender should play this weekend. Friedrich earned 82 caps for the German national team and played in a pair of FIFA World Cups and European championships before a pair of slipped disks in his back slowed his progress . . . The Fire is 8-3-3 all-time in home openers and 4-1-1 in matches played at Toyota Park. Chicago formerly played at Soldier Field . . . Sebastian Grazzini is the player to watch. Grazzini has been credited with either a goal or an assist in nine of 12 regular-season appearances since joining the club last July.
Questionable for the Union: Chris Albright, D (right groin strain); Michael Farfan, MF (right quad strain); Gabriel Farfan, D (right quad strain)
Out for Chicago:Steven Kinney, MF (right posterior tibialis tendinitis)
BY THE NUMBERS
3: Union officials with ties to the Fire. Manager Peter Nowak and director of scouting Diego Gutierrez were both Chicago midfielders, and youth director Jim Curtin (who also played locally at Villanova) was a defender with the Fire for seven seasons (2001-08).
7: The number of wins Chicago has against Nowak in his time as a manager. The Fire went 6-4-2 while Nowak was boss at DC United and is 1-2-1 against the Union.
5: The number of points separating the Union and Chicago at the end of the last two regular seasons (2010: Chicago 36, Union 31; 2011: Union 48, Chicago 43).
Contact Kerith Gabriel at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @sprtswtr.