Photo: Paul Rudderow
Editor’s note: At the end of each of the last two seasons, we posted a series of “Raves” about our favorite Philadelphia players. They need not be the team’s best players, but they’re guys and gals we like. Over the next two weeks, we continue the series with some of PSP writers’ and contributors’ favorite Philadelphia players of 2012.
He plays hurt.
He plays anywhere.
He throws his body around like it was someone else’s, sliding to stop long range blasts, diving to make clearances off the goal line.
Whether it’s good for him individually doesn’t matter. He steps up when needed. It may hurt his individual performance, but you can count on him to help the team wherever he plays, in whatever condition.
If you didn’t already know who this describes, you would think it was a grizzled, veteran team leader.
But you read the headline, so you know. This is 22-year-old Sheanon Williams.
Yes, it may seem that the Philadelphia Union right back has been surpassed this year. Houston’s Kofi Sarkodie (wrongly) got time at right back with the U.S. team during the Olympic qualifiers ahead of Williams, likely benefiting from the fact that his college coach, Caleb Porter, was coaching the team. San Jose right back Steven Beitashour won an all-star berth and his first international call-up, while Williams was left home. Some even think rookie right back Raymon Gaddis should more permanently nudge Williams over to left back.
But Williams hasn’t been fully healthy since early spring due to a painful foot injury. It’s affected his performance significantly, sapping his speed for much of the season and forcing him to rely on more physical play to compensate. Yet he still started 27 matches and has been one of the team’s most reliable players.
The young defender spent the first part of the season getting jerked around between center back and right back after Peter Nowak jettisoned captain Danny Califf, forcing Williams to temporarily redefine himself as an undersized center back and take the physical beating of banging with larger center forwards. (His listed height of 5-10 is probably a bit generous.) Recently, Williams has slid over to left back a few times as Union manager John Hackworth needed a replacement for Gabriel Farfan when the latter was injured or being tried out in midfield. Williams has played every position on the back line and some in midfield this year. Only one of those position is his best, and that’s right back, where talented rookie Raymon Gaddis has challenged for more playing time with some excellent play.
Williams has repeatedly “taken one for the team,” doing it so much that “taking one” has become “taking ten.”
So it’s easy to forget that, when healthy and playing his best position, Williams is one of the best right backs in the U.S. national team pool.
It’s been a tough season for Williams, but in two years, when he’s fighting for a spot on the 2014 World Cup squad (provided the next several days aren’t a disaster for the U.S. National Team, as they’re beginning to look), 2012 will seem like the bump in the road that made him tougher than he ever thought he’d be.
They say form is temporary, while class is permanent. This year, Williams has shown not just class, but resilience and strength of character in the face of adversity. And he’s gotten the job done on the field, even if it’s clear his play is hindered by injury and position changes.
Williams may view this as a lost, miserable season, but it is no such thing. These are the crucibles in which the great ones are forged.