COLUMBUS, Ohio – Heading into the 2012 season Josh Williams was an afterthought for Columbus Crew fans, if the former Cleveland State player was even on their minds at all.
Williams had joined the Crew in September 2010 more as cover for the backline in their CONCACAF Champions League campaign, rather than a serious threat to break into the first team lineup for MLS action.
He made a couple of appearances in the tournament but did not play a league match in 2010 or the following year when he missed 19 games due to a hip injury. He also served a 10-game suspension in 2011 for violating the league's substance abuse policy; he said he mistakenly took an over-the-counter supplement, and apologized.
The Crew stuck by him and were rewarded this season when the 24-year-old became an invaluable utility man on the backline, making 27 starts among 30 appearances at right, left and center back and tallying a goal and three assists.
Now, he is just one of three defenders left on the roster after Wednesday's release of Rich Balchan, Julius James and Sebastián Miranda.
While technical director Brian Bliss said it's possible some of those three and four others who were also cut could return, he made it clear in an interview with MLSsoccer.com on Thursday that Williams has a bright future with the club.
"Josh played the majority of his games at left back but he's a natural righty so we would assume he could probably be a starter, or if Miranda comes back, he could be a depth guy or challenge for a starting spot," Bliss said.
Williams is still amazed at his rise from the bottom of the depth chart.
"It seems like it all happened so fast," he said. "It' s definitely more comforting knowing that I've solidified my spot a little bit and everyone knows I can play at this level now. At the same time we come into next year with a clean slate."
What a difference 12 months have made for him.
"Last year at this time I still thought I could play at this level but hadn't done it yet. I wasn't sure. I know I can now," he said. "If you put in the hard work it will pay off. That's a lesson I taught myself."