Columbus defenders ready for some healthy competition

Crew defender Josh Williams

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OBETZ, Ohio – Josh Williams was taught to keep his head on a swivel to read the plays and players around him.

That means he’s caught sight of two guys – Julius James and Chad Marshall – who may soon eat into his time on the pitch. Williams, the Columbus Crew’s third-year central defender, has been deputizing for James and Marshall while the pair work toward returning from long-term injuries that could put him on the bench.

But Williams, whose eight career starts have all come this season, is not ready to give up his spot without a fight.

“The way I look at it is if we keep winning, they’re going to have to push hard,” he said of the Crew’s 3-0-3 streak heading into Saturday’s match at Chicago. “I’m not here to be a backup. I’ve proved I can play in this league, but at the same time, it’s good competition. I’m a team guy. I’ve always believed in letting the best man play.”

James, who’s not played an MLS match this season because of offseason shoulder surgery and a collapsed lung in April, is training fulltime and is the closest to getting back on the field.

Captain Marshall’s recovery from a concussion on May 4 is steady and coach Robert Warzycha said the two-time MLS Defender of the Year (2008-09) may resume training next week with the goal of playing early next month.

The Crew (5-4-4) have allowed three goals in the six games Marshall has been out as Williams has made his name. Usually he’s been paired with Eric Gehrig or Carlos Mendes; his next partner could be James.

“If Julius is ready, he’s going to play this weekend,” Warzycha said.

As for Marshall, “He’s the best defender in the league. When he’s fit and ready to go, he will be in the lineup.”

That said, James doesn’t expect the job to be handed to him just because he’s healthy.

“No, not at all,” he told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday. “The thing about competition is everyone gets better. I am only as good as my last game. What I did last year was a different season.

“I was injured. It’s not my fault, but the other guys have been playing well,” he added. “I will do my best to win a starting position. You come on the field and earn a spot. When you earn something it’s because you’ve worked hard for it.”