A member of the Matchday 18 in each of his first three career MLS regular-season matches, Columbus Crew SC SuperDraft selection JJ Williams spoke about his transition from the University of Kentucky, the attitude he attributes to this team, and what Caleb Porter brings in his coaching style.
"It’s just a different level," Williams said on the transition process. "You come into a team that varies from where everybody is from, ages, and experience. So I’m obviously the one lacking, at least right now in terms of experience, in terms of minutes, but at the same time, I’m learning a whole lot. I’m learning a ton. I’m taking a lot away from the team and from the organization."
Williams, a 2018 MAC Hermann Trophy Semifinalist and 18th overall pick, played three seasons at the University of Kentucky, making 57 appearances (30 starts), scoring 24 goals and providing 15 assists from 2016-2018.
Still eyeing his first regular-season minutes, the past few months have been a chance for the Generation adidas product to soak in the locker room's established culture.
"At school, you’re at the top; you kind of set the culture, set how you want it to be," Williams said. "And then here, you’re coming into the culture that these guys have already set and trying to figure it out, and figure out each individual and figure out the coaching staff and what not, what they want, and really it’s about whatever you have to do to get on the field."
Porter's approach, Williams noted, comes with high expectations and serves as another source of motivation for guys on the squad to make an impression.
"[Caleb's] a very fierce competitor and he wants to do anything he has to win," Williams said. "So definitely, I think definitely he’s instilling that a little bit into us, and if we’re not playing up to our standard, he’s gonna let us know. And so, definitely, I think that’s something that would describe him for sure. He’s very demanding in what he wants but it’s for good reasoning. He should only expect the best out of us and that’s what he’s going to get."
Notably, the 21-year-old ended his collegiate career with a bang last fall, tallying 18 goals and eight assists en route to helping the Wildcats post a 17-1-1 overall record while also winning the Conference USA Regular Season and Tournament Titles. Additionally, following the 2018 season, Williams was named United Soccer Coaches First Team All-American, USC First Team All-Southeast Region, C-USA Player of the Year, C-USA Offensive Most Valuable Player and C-USA Tournament MVP.
Coming into a Club that's made the playoffs in four of the last five seasons, including reaching the Eastern Conference Semifinals in three of the last four years, Williams gave his description of the approach and attitude of the Club's environment.
"They are extremely professional, extremely hungry," Williams said. "They prepare very well every week. We have amazing players, but it’s the mindset and the mentality, I think that’s the thing that makes this team.
"It’s from whenever you come in, or even after the game on Sunday, you have another team preparing, working, doing everything they can to try and get into a lineup, so it’s pushing the guys that are in the lineup and like you see this week, guys step out and we have plenty of people ready to step up and fill in. So I would definitely just say it’s a very hungry environment."
Through three matches, Porter's listed 12 different starters, with 14 total players earning minutes. Now, with players gone on international duty, Saturday's match at Philadelphia stands as the first chance to see a rotated Black & Gold unit. For Williams, it's always about pushing the guys ahead of you and taking advantage of the opportunity when it arises.
"I know that it’s tough because you could be drafted somewhere else, but I’m drafted into a really good team and it’s just, I can’t wait for my minutes whenever I do get a chance and I’m going to make the most of it, but until then I’m just patient."
The Crew (2-0-1, 7 pts.) kickoff at Philadelphia (0-2-1, 1 pt.) at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, March 23 at Talen Energy Stadium. The match will be broadcast on FOX Sports Ohio and 97.1 FM The Fan. Followers can also tune into the live Spanish audio stream at www.ColumbusCrewSC.com.