When the Columbus Crew lost defender Glauber for the season with an ACL tear in June, the team began its search for a replacement in the center of their defense that has continued throughout the summer.
The athletic Josh Williams, with prototypical centerback size and some experience at the position, got some time in the spot, but an inconsistent series of outings culminated in a 2-1 loss to the Chicago Fire, and head coach Robert Warzycha opted for a switch to veteran midfielder/defender Danny O’Rourke, who played alongside stalwart Chad Marshall in the team’s 2008 MLS Cup-winning season.
But after an injury sidelined O’Rourke, Williams found himself back in the center of the pitch, and the pairing of Williams and Marshall has resulted in two straight shutout victories for the Crew.
“Obviously it’s been incredibly positive,” said goalkeeper Matt Lampson. “It’s funny with a backline, you never really know what combination is going to be best, and it’s really working out for us right now.”
For Warzycha, Williams has improved the mental aspect of his game, such as marking and organization.
“Especially marking in the box, we had some issues before, but right now we are very tight and are marking the players,” Warzycha said. “Sometimes we just marked space, and that wasn’t the right decision.”
For Williams, the opportunity was a welcome chance to redeem himself from his earlier matches at centerback.
“I thought the last time I was in there, against Chicago, I didn’t have my best game,” Williams said. “Chad and Danny have a lot of history together, they won the MLS Cup, so that was fine. So when Danny went back down they told me to go back in and I was kind of glad to get a little redemption and I was excited to get back in there with Chad.”
Warzycha said that Marshall, a 10-year MLS veteran, has been on form lately, and has been positive for Williams’s development.
“Playing with Chad is good when Chad is on top of his game, and I think he’s on top of his game right now,” said the Crew boss. “I think it’s very easy for the guys around Chad to play, because they know that he can cover and win the headers, and that he is a good passer.”
Williams says that while there is a learning curve in the adjustment from fullback to centerback, the help of Marshall and O’Rourke has been critical for him, and that he is feeling more comfortable in the role.
“Obviously at right back you can play-make a little bit more, you get to go up the field and get into the attack more,” he said. “Now I’ve got a lot of defensive responsibilities that I need to be aware of. My job now is to organize guys, make sure guys are in the right position, and just be the safety net when things break down.”
Andrew King covers the Columbus Crew for MLSsoccer.com.