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Raves: Sheanon Williams

(Photo: Paul Rudderow)

Editor’s note: At the end of the 2010 season, 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 again with some of the PSP writers’ and contributors’ favorite players of 2011.

Searing pace, constant aggression, attacking flair. These are the exact attributes coaches prize in a winger, but at fullback?

Meet the Sheanomenon.

When it comes to Williams’ development into one of the best young defenders in MLS, major credit is due to Union assistant coach John Hackworth, who kept tabs on Sheanon Williams after having coached him at the U-17 World Cup in 2007. The modern game has seen a rash of talented wingers converted into dangerous attacking fullbacks and Hackworth’s work to transform Williams’ game can easily be counted on as one of MLS’ success stories.

It’s not often that an elite player falls into your lap, seemingly out of the blue. But that is exactly the case with Williams, who left UNC after only one season to try his luck abroad. While all accounts suggest that he showed well in trials with VFL Wolfsburg and FC Twente, neither yielded a contract and Williams, a youth international for the United States at U-17, U-20 and now U-23 levels, returned stateside to build a career. Following a stint in the Premier Development League, Williams moved to Union affiliate Harrisburg City Islanders. 19 matches later, Williams got the call up to MLS, where his eight games played in 2010 represented the most stout defensive performances put together by the Union backline all season.

From pleasant surprise to starting XI stalwart, Williams’ minutes quadrupled in 2011 as he featured 32 times for the Union, taking full ownership of the right back spot. In a team who struggled for offensive punch throughout the 2011 campaign, Williams was never shy to step into the attack. As the year wore on, he could be found marauding higher and higher up the pitch, even making dangerous runs into the box, forcing the issue in an effort to kick the Union offense into gear. While he was only able to manage a solitary tally on the year (that the Boston lad scored the goal against New England must have been nice), his threatening attack put his opposition under constant pressure and he represented one of the few Union players who embodied the term “the best defense is a good offense.”

Of course, it doesn’t hurt when you’re the fastest player on the field and have the ability to recover quickly from any location once offensive possession has been ceded.

It is nice timing that this rave gets to follow our rave on fellow Tar Heel Michael Farfan when you consider that, over the second half of the season, the two players have grown to comprise one of (if not THE) best young fullback/wing combinations anywhere in MLS. Add in the fact that Williams and Marfan are second and first year players, respectively, and there is a whole lot to be excited about going forward (literally and chronologically). With Marfan’s vision and guile on the ball, and Sheanon’s unrelenting desire to get forward, the two project as a formidable partnership, one that will hopefully be cemented as the right side of the Union’s formation for the foreseeable future. And, however suspect his play may have been filling in as a fullback, Michael Farfan’s experiences in the position will have, at the very least, helped him to better understand his defensive responsibilities when the Sheanomenon goes tearing down field in an effort to sate his predatory instincts.

Only three years removed from his days with the Carolina Dynamo in the PDL, Williams’ rise has indeed been meteoric. That he capped off his first complete MLS season with a strong showing in the recent U-23 National Team camp after he forced his way into Caleb Porter’s plans for next summer’s 2012 Summer Olympics in London only bodes well for future national team duty. So while Amobi Okugo, Zac MacMath and Zach Pfeffer head off to Europe to train and extend their seasons, the Sheanomenon will finally get a chance to put his feet up for some well deserved R&R and daydream about next summer when he pulls on the red, white and blue for the US.

He’s certainly earned it.

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