Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
COLUMBUS, Ohio– On the 11-year anniversary of Sept. 11th, every American at Crew Stadium had their own story for how they remember that fateful day. For Danny Williams, the tragedy was burned into his memory as a young boy in Germany watching his American father cry as they watched the images on television. Williams couldn’t really understand why the images on the TV brought his father to tears and left his mother frozen, but he knew something devastating and tragic had happened.
“My father was shocked because he grew up in New York and New Jersey,” Williams said, remembering 9/11. “My mom was also frozen, watching the TV. I saw these pictures on the TV and all these people in New York were running because of the dust. I had to keep on thinking and go to training that night even though I didn’t want to go.”
Eleven years later, Williams was in a U.S. national team uniform, representing the United States on the anniversary of 9/11 and that fact, as well as the energy from an inspired crowd at Crew Stadium, helped give Williams and his U.S. teammates the push they needed to secure a vital victory.
Williams was a key figure in Tuesday’s victory, flourishing in the defensive midfield role he has been begging to play since joining the national team a year ago. Having been deployed mostly as a right winger in past national team appearances, Williams never quite had the impact for the U.S. he had on Tuesday night, when he anchored the midfield as the deep-lying midfielder in a 4-1-3-2.
The role suited Williams perfectly as he enjoyed a Man of the Match-caliber performance. He distributed the ball well, broke up Jamaican attacks and also sparked American attacks with his passing out of the back.
“I said I will play wherever the coach wants me to play but I had a couple of talks with the coaches and assistant coaches and I said I think I can help the team the most when I play in this position because I’m used to playing this position,” Williams said. “I grew up there in the midfield, and I think the people who saw me today saw why I feel so comfortable in this situation.”
Williams has grown accustomed to being tried at positions other than his preferred role, including a prolonged stint at right back with Freiburg, but he has recently found consistent time at Hoffenheim in defensive midfield, and after Tuesday’s showing for the U.S., he can expect to play more there for the Americans.
“The funny thing is every coach I tell them I’m a defensive midfielder but they say ‘yeah, yeah, we know’,” said Williams. “In Freiburg it was my age. They said ‘oh, you’re only 19 years old. It’s too young’ and I’d say no, it’s not too young. Give me a chance at least, because on the outside, right back or right wing, it’s not my position and I don’t feel comfortable there.
“I think when a player doesn’t feel comfortable in a position you can see it,” Williams said. When I feel comfortable on the pitch, in my position, then the people can also see it and I can help the team.”
Williams was effective both in the attack, and in helping support a U.S. defense that had little trouble with Jamaica on Tuesday.
“He’s been talking about how much he’s a No. 6 and a lot of people have been saying he has those qualities and he showed it tonight,” Tim Howard said of Williams. “He was really good on the ball and, more than anything, he kept the ball moving, he kept the rhythm. He didn’t take too many touches. He didn’t get stuck with the ball, didn’t spin himself into circles.
“He got it and moved it and that’s what you need to do.”
Klinsmann praised Williams performance, and also defended his decision to wait this long to play him in defensive midfield, citing the depth the U.S. has at the position.
“It has also to do with the competition,” Klinsmann said. “I know from his club coach is that his preferred role is the No. 6 role, but we have players who are really good there too. We can play Jermaine (Jones) there. We have Kyle (Beckerman) and Mo (Edu), and all are doing well. It’s not that there’s a big difference so we have to consult with the other elements.
“I’m sure that wasn’t the last time you’ll see Danny playing the No. 6 for us.”
Klinsmann also pointed out the fact that Williams was excited about being cap-tied for the United States, which he was after last Friday’s appearance in the qualifying loss to Jamaica in Kingston. Williams pointed out that his excitement had more to do with finally playing in a match that mattered for the United States.
“Friendly matches are not the same, not like (qualifiers),” Williams said. “In friendly matches of course you want to win, but if you lose you still keep on going. This game on Friday I knew it was my first real match, and at my position also. I think the more and more I play with the team I have more confidence in myself and I think they also trust me more. When I play in this position I think I can help the team a lot.”
Williams also made it clear that he was committed to sticking with the U.S. national team even before being cap-tied last week. Though he was born in Germany, his connection to his father and his love for the United States has endured for years, and was only galvanized on Tuesday night, as a stadium full of Americans cheered him on.
“I already said when I played my first game in Miami against Honduras, I was sure already that I would play for this team because I’m proud to play for this national team and I’m proud to represent this country, especially on this day,” Williams said. “I know it’s big for all the American people and I know it’s big for my dad also because on that day I was 12 years old and he was crying in front of the TV.
“I’m happy for the team because I think we played a great game and the crowd was fantastic tonight.”