OBETZ, Ohio – Josh Williams was running around like a crazed man in the PPL Park visiting locker room on Aug. 29, and it wasn’t because he had scored his first career goal earlier in the day against the Philadelphia Union.
No, the Columbus defender was happy that Eddie Gaven’s goal late in stoppage time gave the Crew an improbable 2-1 victory. It was a victory that came even though Williams was red-carded in the 68th minute for a scuffle with Antoine Hoppenot, leaving the team short-handed for the duration of the match.
“They definitely bailed me out,” Williams told MLSsoccer.com this week. “As soon as the guys walked in, I hugged all of them and apologized to all them. It was a dumb play.”
Williams’ automatic suspension for last Saturday’s match against Montreal was amplified when the MLS Disciplinary Committee reviewed the Union match and also suspended defender Julius James for an incident with Hoppenot. Yet the surging Crew (12-8-6) won their fourth straight game without the pair and they will both be available Wednesday at New England (8 pm ET; watch LIVE online).
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Williams is likely to start, just as he started the first five matches of Columbus’ stretch of seven games in 21 days, a demanding run that will conclude at Gillette Stadium.
“[The suspension] might have been a blessing in disguise,” Williams said. “We got the three points and I got the game off. That definitely helped put some spring back in my legs. They feel fresh right now.”
The Crew are on a 4-0-2 run and coach Robert Warzycha is hesitant to make lineup alterations, though Williams might find himself at a different position if he returns against the Revolution (6-14-7).
That’s because Nemanja Vukovic took Williams’ spot at left back vs. the Impact in his first match since July 8, and Warzycha was pleased with his play. Having confidence in Vukovic could enable Williams to slide over to center back, where he’s spent most of the season, and give Danny O’Rourke a rest.
For O’Rourke, who has started the past three matches and appears to have overcome injuries that have plagued him for the past two seasons, not playing on artificial turf Wednesday would mean he could use the Crew’s ensuing 10-day break to rest, instead of possibly rehabbing another injury.
“It’s an option, obviously,” Warzycha said. “But you have to keep the momentum if you can. That’s why there’s not too many changes game to game. As long as the guys feel good and they want to play and there’s no injuries, I keep them on the field.”
Another reason to play Williams is the expertise on restarts shown by newcomer Federico Higuain. In the past three games the Argentinean forward has two goals – both against New England in a 4-3 victory on Aug. 25 – and four assists.
Williams scored a set-piece header against the Union thanks to Higuain’s precise delivery, and central defender Chad Marshall did likewise against Montreal.
“Free kicks are our weapon,” Williams said. “Teams have to be careful where they foul us.”