OBETZ, Ohio – Josh Williams walked off the practice field Wednesday and into four separate media interviews before heading into the training facility.
“It’s different,” he said of the attention. “I’m not used to it. I’ve been here three years and kind of stayed under the radar. If it means I’m playing, I’m happy with it.”
Yes, he is. Williams made his first MLS start and third career appearance when he lined up at center back alongside Chad Marshall for last Saturday’s 2-2 draw against Houston.
Williams, a former Cleveland State player, was signed in September 2010 and played in two CONCACAF Champions League matches, including a start against Joe Public of Trinidad, before the season ended.
He missed 19 games last season between a hip strain and a 10-game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. He said he mistakenly took an over-the-counter supplement and apologized.
But the Crew stuck with him, and Williams played a half-dozen Reserve League games in 2011 and all four this season.
“Those games have been huge for me,” he said. “It’s the closest thing to a game we can get to. Our team’s been pretty successful, so we play a pretty good brand of soccer.”
Injuries to defenders Julius James, Carlos Mendes, Rich Balchan and Danny O’Rourke paved the way for Williams to get on the field as a substitute March 24 against Montreal and then a week later at Toronto FC before his big break in the Houston match.
“He matured a lot,” head coach Robert Warzycha said. “He’s much fitter than ever. Also, injuries have given him a chance to get on the field. He’s doing well and he’s taking his chance.”
As the Crew’s overall health improves, Williams knows his playing time will diminish, but at least he’s proven he belongs on the field.
“He understands better what’s required in that position,” Marshall said. “He’s done a great job working on those things over the years. He’s a guy who comes to training with a good level of energy and a willingness to learn.”
Vancouver’s second-year midfielder Michael Nanchoff will have more than 500 members of “Team Nanchoff” in attendance at Crew Stadium on Saturday, even though he might not play because of a heel injury.
Nanchoff is from North Royalton in northeast Ohio and played at the University of Akron with Crew rookie Ben Speas. Nanchoff is also a childhood friend and former club teammate of Williams, who is from nearby Copley, Ohio.
“Him coming here and both of us being at this level, it’s definitely a cool experience,” Williams said.
However, he said there is no way he can match Nanchoff’s fan club.
“I know my mom and dad are coming,” Williams said. “I know most everyone that’s coming to see him. Hopefully in that crowd they’ll be some scattered black and gold.”