Season Reviews

Season review: Sheanon Williams

Photo: Paul Rudderow

Editor’s note: PSP continues its annual tradition of producing season reviews for each Union player. We’ll run one review per weekday between now and Thanksgiving.

Sheanon Williams seemed to nail down the trick of being underrated this year.

It started with a tough 2012 that brought him down to earth, taking a seemingly emerging starlet, saddling him with a lingering injury that sapped his speed, and playing him out of position on several occasions. Then he got stapled to the bench for the U.S. U-23 squad during Olympic qualifiers. Add the surprising emergence of Ray Gaddis, a lightning fast rookie in 2012 who just happened to play the same position as Williams for Philadelphia Union.

The result was that people stopped mentioning Williams when talking about top MLS right backs and U.S. national team prospects. It wasn’t so much that his reputation took a nose dive as much as the shine seemed to come off the new car. People took him for granted. Sure, he was a nice player, but what did he do last year? Sure, he contributed, but did he shine? Did he excite people like he did in 2011 when his bombing runs down the right flank caught the American soccer world off guard? Would he even start over Gaddis in 2013?

Then the 2013 season started, and Williams quietly produced one of this year’s best seasons by a right back in MLS. Of note, he:

  • Tied the league record for assists by a defender (8);
  • Ranked 4th among right backs in total tackles (72), 5th in interceptions (68), 3rd in key passes (28), and second (tie) in completed crosses (21);
  • Drew more fouls (42) than any other defender MLS.

His long throw-ins led to several Philadelphia goals and became a known weapon throughout the league. With Williams back at full health, his bombing runs returned, although their frequency and effectiveness often depended upon who was playing right midfield in front of him. (Williams was more effective playing behind Michael Farfan or Sebastien Le Toux and less effective behind Danny Cruz.) His man-marking was typically top-shelf, and teams more often attacked the Union through the middle or down the opposite flank, perhaps out of respect for Williams. Williams also showed the versatility to deputize at center back, turning in a terrific performance against Montreal that earned him PSP’s Player of the Week award.

On the flip side, he remained lacking in some areas. He also led MLS right backs in fouls committed (42) and crosses attempted (112), indicating a cross rate (19%) significantly inferior to other right backs such as Chance Myers and Tony Beltran.

Still, on the whole, it was a very productive year that cemented Williams as one of the league’s best at his position.

Williams 2013 statsHigh point

The Union’s 2-0 win over D.C. United on Aug. 10. Not only did Williams tie the MLS record for most assists in a season by a defender, but he also made a dramatic goal-line save to maintain the Union’s one-goal lead at the time.

Low point

The Union’s 5-1 disastrous loss in New England. Williams created two goals that were called back, one incorrectly. Later, his loss of possession in the 58th minute led directly to the Revolution’s second goal and opened the floodgates for the blowout. As if that wasn’t enough, Amobi Okugo got ejected from the game, forcing Williams to fill in for him the next week at center back. All in all, it was a day best forgotten.


Sheanon Williams has one of the best long throw-ins not just in North American soccer, but possibly in the world. He is a solid, physical defender with good straightaway speed, and he is an excellent addition to the attack when playing behind certain midfielders. He also has shown the flexibility to deputize elsewhere on the back line, though strong target forwards can overpower him when he’s deployed at center back.

Also, Williams is a fierce, intense competitor, perhaps more demonstrably so than any other Union player. As he continues to gain experience, that could be a strength that sets an example to a generation of Union players.


Discipline. Williams ranked first among MLS right backs in fouls committed (42) and and third in yellow cards (6). He is prone to losing his cool and going overboard. This is the flip side of Williams’ competitiveness. He has to better harness his emotions in bad situations.


Williams is a potential future team captain, one of the league’s best right backs, and still just 23 years old. He has U.S. national team potential and could move to Europe at some point, but he also could find himself in that Brad Davis spot where he’s great in the domestic league but doesn’t draw significant overseas attention. The result is he could be an MLS lifer and an all-star, exactly the sort of player you build franchises around in MLS.

Stat chart legend:
POS: Position; GP: Games Played; GS: Games Started; MINS: Minutes; PA: Passes Attempted; PC: Passes Completed; P%: Passing Accuracy Percentage; TO: Turnovers (not from incomplete passes); G: Goals; A: Assists; SOG: Shots on Goal; SOG/S%: Percentage of Shots that are on Goal; G/SOG%: Percentage of Shots on Goal Converted; SC%: Scoring Percentage; G/90min: Goals per 90 minutes; Hm G: Home Goals; Rd G: Road Goals; FC: Fouls Committed; FS: Fouls Suffered; YC: Yellow Cards; RC: Red Cards


  1. Kevin Kinkead / philadelphia union says:

    Not to mention that Sheanon had more assists with his hands than a lot of other players had with their feet. He was more productive in this category than Deandre Yedlin (all-star), Chance Myers, Corey Ashe (all-star), and Seth Sinovic.

  2. Notice that Sheannon did not have an assist over the last 2.5 months of the season which roughly corresponds to when Cruz was permanently placed on the right side.

    • This thought kept echoing through my mind as I was reading this article. There are players that improve the game of everyone around them; Cruz is the opposite

  3. Your “Outlook” totally nailed it. I think Williams is indeed one of the best at his spot, and could indeed draw USMNT attention, and may well come up just short of drawing European attention. Plus he clearly loves playing for the Union.

    So he could well end up being our Brad Davis: the perpetual All-Star who becomes the cornerstone of the franchise for many years.

    • +1. I was thinking the same thing. I think Williams is a stellar player. Doubt that he will draw much attention from any Euro league beyond those that are on par with the MLS now. I can see him being the face of the team and possibly the captain given a few years.

    • I feel that he and Okugo have a similar “Outlook.” I would love for both to stay put with the U. However, I feel that if they keep up their stellar play, both will be packing the bag for Europe. I could see Williams manning the backline for a German club.

  4. Williams tackling has really improved this year. He has mastered that leaping slide tackle from behind where he separates the attacker from the ball without fouling.

    I thought that he had a really good year. Even in that defeat vs SKC on the last day, he was all over the field while playing active roles in both defense and attack.

  5. Quite simply, he’s one of my favorite players to watch. The effort and intensity combined with the skill makes it fun to just focus on him for stretches at a time, watching his off-ball movement, his defending, etc. I selfishly hope all the “not quite good enough for Europe” comments are true, so we can have him for a long, long time.

    • +1 In addition, he is one of the nicest guys on the pitch. He trains a team at my son’s club and always has time for my son and his mother.

  6. james lockerbie says:

    Mr. Williams is a fine player, but your comment about his
    temper is right on. I hope he can keep his competitive
    edge, but dial down his temper. all in all one of the union’s finest.

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