Postcard from Europe: Williams blows into the US picture
AMSTERDAM — Some seasons change quicker, with greater effect than others. For Hoffenheim midfielder Daniel Williams, the newest-capped US national-team player, it has been one of those whirlwind autumns.
Flash back just four months and the 22-year-old Karlsruhe, Germany, native was resting up from a surprising ninth-place finish with Freiburg, where he worked seven contests as a rising squad player. From there, you need to buckle up.
In August, Williams moved to Hoffenheim, where he's quickly nailed down a starting slot in their lively 4-2-3-1 set. By September's end, new USMNT boss Jurgen Klinsmann had dropped by for a chat and the former Germany Under-15 international was filing paperwork for a FIFA switch.
"He came to training, I talked to him for 10 or 15 minutes and then he invited me," Williams told MLSsoccer.com by phone from Hoffenheim on Wednesday. "Everything happened very quickly. I went to Frankfurt with my dad, applied for the passport and the next day it was there."
On Oct. 8, he was in the US national team’s lineup for a friendly against Honduras in Miami, an experience he'll never forget.
"I had goose bumps when the national anthem was playing," said Williams. "The team was very nice to me and made it very easy for me to play. I really enjoyed it."
It was no mere debut — and actually no spur-of-the-moment decision from the youngster. It seems Williams had been secretly plotting this red, white and blue switch for a while. It's a gesture to his father, who started a family with a German girl while on US military duty in Heidelberg.
"I always thought about it," he admitted. "I talked to my dad and told him that I wanted to play for the United States and he was happy. When Klinsmann called me, I didn't need to think anymore. Now, I'm really happy to play for the United States."
With plenty of German speakers in camps these days, Williams found it easy to settle into the team on what might otherwise be a wide-eyed first-ever journey to America — even in that crazy Miami climate.
"Everything was very different, the atmosphere, the weather," said Williams, who speaks excellent English. "It was very easy for me because my roommate was Timothy Chandler. When Klinsmann speaks to the team, it's always in English. "When we are alone, [Chandler] can talk to me in German so I can understand everything 100 percent.
"Sometimes,” he chuckled, “I have to listen two times.”
Williams says he's really a central midfielder, and not the wide player seen in his first two caps. He has another laugh conceding that wingback is least favorite of all his prior pro assignments. Dexterity in heavy traffic and a mean splitting pass are among his better field traits.
"[Defensive midfield] is my normal, natural home on the field," he said. "But I will play where [Klinsmann] wants me to play."
He hopes to be playing the US’ next friendly against France in Paris on Nov. 11, but that's next month, which might seem like an eon to Williams right now. He's busy enjoying each moment with his new national team and new club.
After successive 11th-place finishes the past two seasons, Hoffenheim stand eighth in the Bundesliga after 10 matches. Williams is settling in fine, with five starts from the last six.
"I feel really comfortable here," he explained. "You can really focus on your job. They don't get so nervous when you lose, like in Cologne or Munich, you know?"
As with the US national team, the goal at Hoffenheim these days is reaching new heights from a burgeoning place. The namesake village has only 3,300 citizens, while Rhein-Neckar Stadium holds just more than 30,000. The club was founded in 1899, but first reached the Bundesliga in 2008.
Williams isn't eager to set objectives for something so far away as season's end, but he's excited to see how the season progresses for a starting lineup that often averages younger than 23 years of age.
"I think we are a quality team and [Holger Stanislawski] is an amazing coach," stated Williams. "It's not easy to say what the goals are, but I think we need to be at least in the top 10, in the upper part."
On Saturday, Hoffenheim will attempt their first three-game win streak of the season on a visit to face Jermaine Jones and third-place Schalke. It's another test, but Williams says the club is prepared.
"Everyone saw [in a 0-0 draw] against Bayern Munich that we have the quality to even play against big teams," Williams said. "We only have to be self-confident and work hard everyday, and in my opinion, everything is possible with this team."
And that, US fans, sums up the attitude that came in the door with the new guy like a cool autumn breeze in Miami.