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SBI Spotlight: Danny Williams hoping career year for Reading will mean more looks for USMNT

Danny Williams Reading 13

Danny Williams has been in the U.S. Men’s National Team picture for more than four years, but his place in the squad has never really been too secure and his appearances have been sporadic at best.

Thankfully for him, he is having a career year at Reading that should help his cause.

Most leagues in Europe are past the halfway point in their seasons, and so far one of the biggest American surprises is Williams. The 26-year-old midfielder has shown more of an attacking edge to his game, scoring a personal-best six goals across all competitions thus far for Reading, and maintaining a consistent good run of form as a starter for the English Championship club.

Some observers on this side of the Atlantic might be surprised to see Williams as the Royals’ leading goal-scorer in league play, especially since he started his career as a defensive midfielder. The improved production on the offensive end and overall performances are, however, the result of hard work and the adaptation to a new, less-restricted role.

“Obviously you always try to improve, you try to develop your game, and then I think I just found out over the last 1-2 years that I think I’m an energetic, box-to-box midfielder,” Williams told SBI. “I’m not really like a holding, No. 6 anymore. I’ve developed my game into that, and at the moment it works better for me.”

Williams has been given more freedom to express himself at Reading than he was at German Bundesliga sides Freiburg or Hoffenheim at the start of his career. Yes, he is still asked to chip in and do his share of the dirty work on the defensive side, but is also encouraged to get involved in the attack like a true No. 8, whether that be via shots from distance, individual dribbles, or late runs into the penalty area.

This change in style has been a welcome one for Williams, but is not something that happened overnight or just in this season alone. The managerial staff at Reading told the veteran midfielder immediately upon his arrival back in 2013 that it wanted him to add more goals to his game. The coaches believed Williams had the skill set to do so despite the fact that he had just one career tally, and thought it was all just a matter of him honing his offensive qualities.

“Everybody loves to score goals, right, but it’s not only that,” said Williams. “The more you grow and the older you get, you can see yourself. You know what the strength is, you know what your weaknesses are, or what you like to do and everything.

“I just think that the game, especially in England, it’s dynamic football they play here. It’s attacking and then you have to go back to defense, and it’s just that I don’t see myself as a holding No. 6 anymore.”

Williams did not have an overwhelming offensive output in his first campaign, but was a regular starter from the onset and found the back of the net three times to show signs of progress. His sophomore season with Reading saw him take a step back in terms of production as he finished with just one goal, but he was once again a lineup regular and thought he took strides with his attacking play.

Those improvements eventually translated over to the international level, as Williams opened his account with a deflected but crucial equalizer in the Americans’ 4-3 comeback win over the Netherlands last summer. He then scored again just a few months later, hitting a sizzling effort from distance that was exceptional but quickly forgotten because it came at the end of a 4-1 drubbing vs. Brazil.

While those U.S. highlights from 2015 are not ones Williams will soon forget, it is a different, more disappointing moment entirely that sticks out to him. Williams rues the missed opportunity he had to make a serious case for more playing time in last October’s 1-0 home loss to Costa Rica. He not only started in that match in the absence of U.S. captain Michael Bradley, but was also given more offensive responsibilities while wearing the No. 10 jersey.

Williams, like the most of the rest of his compatriots, turned in a dud of a performance. That only further proved irksome for him, especially since he was left as an unused substitute in the U.S.’s CONCACAF Cup loss to rival Mexico just days prior.

“I felt I was in good form, because I had just scored a goal against Middlesbrough the week before, and of course I was hoping to get some game time and everything,” said Williams, who has earned 19 caps since debuting for the Americans in 2011. “Of course, you go into the game and play in front of nearly 100,000 (fans) and you lose in extra time. Of course, I was itching on the bench to try and make an impact. Of course, I was a bit frustrated after that big defeat.

“Then you travel from the west coast to the east coast and have a game within the next, I would not even say 48 hours, because of the time difference. Then a couple of the starting boys they went back to their teams, so you try to force yourself to make everything right, to have a good game, and then it completely goes against you. Of course, you’re frustrated. That whole trip was frustrating.”

Williams returned to his club and resumed playing after that, but was left off U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster for November’s pair of World Cup qualifiers. It was discouraging for Williams to not be included in that camp, but his mindset remained on controlling what he could with Reading.

Williams has responded by delivering consistent play, and finding goals more regularly. He has scored three league goals and one recent FA Cup goal since the November national team snub.

“It’s how you deal with it. That’s an important thing,” said Williams. “As long as I work hard and as long as I’m trying to do my best to make things right, I think there will always be a door open. I didn’t have as much contact over the last month, two months with Jurgen, but I’m sure they all follow our club careers, whether it’s a player who plays in France, England or Germany or around the MLS.

“They watch all the national team players, and it’s only my job that I can try and do my best and try to play again and then go from there.”

Williams believes he is ready to take the next step with the U.S. by becoming a more integral part of the team, and knows there is a prime chance to do so this June at the Copa America Centenario. He has to earn his way onto that roster, of course, but is eager to play in the competition after missing the 2014 World Cup due to injury and the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup to focus on his health and fitness.

Still, Williams is only worrying himself with continuing to play well at Reading. After all, that is all he can control.

“That’s the third big tournament, so of course I’m eager to play there, to make an impact, but the foundation is built now,” said Williams. “I can only work on what will happen between now and then, and that’s the only thing I can influence. I learned in the past it’s not good to look so far ahead. I had a taste of how it feels when you’re looking forward to something and then you get told that you have to have surgery, so I’m not a big fan of not looking so far ahead anymore.

“I’m trying to look from week to week. What I can influence is my performance, I can work on myself, keep my body right, have to keep in shape, and be fit and not get injured. That’s the only thing I can influence, really. What happens after, that’s not really my influence.”


  1. There are a lot of changes on the horizon within the USMNT. A number of players are performing extremely well and new players are cropping up all over the field. What formation(s) we play will have a huge impact on who has the inside track. But with the increased number of players and quality available players are going to have to perform well or lose their spot to someone else.
    Beckerman & Zusi are all but done. Will take a major crisis for them to get back in the picture.
    Jones & Dempsey are hanging on due to experience. But if Jones doesn’t resolve his club situation ASAP he’ll be out. If Dempsey doesn’t stay at 100% he’ll be out as well. Regardless both should not be guaranteed 90 minute players or starters in 2016.
    Bedoya is stable for now, but he’s got competition breathing down his neck. He’ll need good performances to stay in the team.

    IMO our best CMs are currently Bradley, Cameron, Williams, Nagbe, Nguyen, Morales. These are the players who should get the bulk of the minutes. Against teams that are better than us use more defensively sound players (Bradley, Williams, Morales). Against teams that are weaker than us use more attack oriented players (Bradley, Nguyen, Nagbe).

    The younger players coming up (Trapp, Stanko, Hyndman, Zelelem, Canouse, etc…) are not ready right now. They have huge potential but still need to mature and refine their game. In another year or 2 they’ll be able to make a push, but for most I think it’ll happen after 2018.

  2. I know we’re quick to anoint players but let’s see with his next call-up if club performances translate to international performances. If we’re being completely honest Danny Williams has failed to impress in quite some time when called up. Some very pedestrian and forgetful appearances.

    I remember a certain player by the name of Kljestian being screamed from the rooftops only to be a complete ghost in most of his showings under multiple managers while having good club form.

    I’m all for players given chances but we’ve seen a number of cases were the club form and international form are mutually exclusive. I also find it a tad ironic people keep crying about “consistency” but keep calling for player X or player Y to be inserted from game to game.

    The backup quarterback syndrome is real in soccer fans.

    • Sidenote: Ngyuen, who has impressed recently, would have never been given a chance if we kept with this “consistency” mantra.

    • While I generally agree that Williams hasn’t taken advantage of his opportunities to pry the job away from JJ, it should also be remembered that the first times JK called him in, he deployed him as a winger or fullback. Neither of those positions are where he has thrived at Reading. He has only played the #6 role a few times for the USMNT and, other than the Costa Rica game, did well enough. He was subbed on and scored against NED and then started against GER a few days later in the #6. Those wins were considered the pinnacle of our 2015 and he made an impact in both games. Yes, he later blew it against CR but I hope he is given more opportunities to integrate with the first team and see if he is the guy.

      • I don’t recall him playing fullback, but I do recall him being tested out on the wing (which was not ideal).

        That’s something I can agree with a lot on this board is questions about certain players deployment on the pitch by Jurgen. When Williams was originally called up I wasn’t familiar with his but after a few matches it was clear the wing/wide midfielder was not for him.

        To be honest, I don’t think we need another #6. I’m normally a huge proponent of Bradley playing a more advanced midfielder because we didn’t have anyone else that can distribute like him in the final third, but Ngyuen just may be that answer for the next few years.

        If we continue to deploy two defensive midfielders I just hope Williams can effectively yo-yo with Bradley more effectively than Jones. The Jones/Bradley pairing has proven over the years they more often than not cancel each other out with the same tendencies and positioning.

    • i don’t know, i’ve thought he’s played pretty well when deployed as a central mid–a couple games stand out as below par, but nothing to suggest we should give up on him.

      and that’s a good point about club/international form sometimes being mutually exclusive. for most players, so much of their form depends on the system and players they’re alongside. (see gus poyet’s recollection of him regularly scoring for his country when his club form was abysmal. re: jozy, of course.) it just makes it a little riskier for managers to call players up when they’re in poor form, as it’s often at the expense of other players who might be in form–or just fashionable–at the moment.

  3. I really do think he is next in line for the #6 position. His game is way more polished than any of the young players coming up who play that #6 role. Personally, I’d like to see him brought in for the March qualifiers and given a start at home with JJ playing away. Now, knowing JK that is unlikely to happen with JJ still in the picture but if JJ has trouble finding a good club situation it could force JK’s hand. I’d love to get Williams integrated into the squad before the Copa. That kind of experience for him could be invaluable for getting him ready to start in Russia 2018.

    Sadly, I don’t think JK will do this. He will continue to play JJ despite his club troubles and troubles on the field for the USMNT until, either he gets injured or plays so poorly that JK has no choice but to make the switch. As is tradition…

    • It was Klinsmann who brought him into the national team in the first place and he’s given him a lot of opportunities since. Because of Williams stinker vs. Costa Rica he was left out of the qualifiers, but has been playing well since. Because we have so many midfielders, I don’t know if Williams will be brought in during March, but I’m sure he will get playing time this year if he continues to play well. Remember that after publicly criticizing F Johnson that Klinsmann brought him back for the last qualifiers. Also, Klinsmann left Jozy out of a round of qualifiers a couple of years ago, but then welcomed him back and now has him as a mainstay.

      • important to note that both fabian (wide player) and jozy (striker) are clearly the best we have right now at their respective positions. klinsmann has a little less incentive to call in williams.

  4. I’ve always felt like he’s the post-Kyle Beckerman/Jermaine successor as the central mid to Bradley. But shoot, him professing his love for the #8 position could complicate things as far as his role with the USMNT. We know that Bradley is going to hold down that #8 for a while, so as long as DWill doesn’t mind playing the #6 for us, he has a spot. But he better grab that spot soon because if not…you’ve got Trapp, Morales, Stanko, etc all coming for that spot next to MB90! Good luck, Danny Boyyyyyy…the pipes, the pipes are callllinnnnng…

      • i think bradley’s always been better sitting back with another mid beside him. he’s not a good enough defender to be able to shield our backline by himself, and his distribution is noticeably less effective when he’s up behind the forwards.

        thought that would be solved when jones came on board, but it didn’t work for whatever reason. if danny can keep it up, maybe a williams-bradley tandem can work.

  5. He’ seems to be playing well enough that I hope he gets bought by a EPL side before next season. He’s in the prime of his career now, so it’s good to see him take advantage of his opportunities.

    • yeah, i mentioned on another post that i was surprised a bigger team hadn’t gone after him yet. he’s been playing very well for reading for the last couple years, and now the goals are coming too.


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