The 24-year-old very well may have been part of the USMNT’s current World Cup qualifying campaign, where they sit second in the Concacaf Octagonal standings in pursuit of a Qatar 2022 spot.
But his knee injury and the subsequent recovery period have sidelined Williamson since breaking through at the 2021 Concacaf Gold Cup, starting the final against Mexico.
“The goal of mine is to just be ready for the first start of the season, make it before this international break we have in the summer,” Williamson told Timbers broadcaster Jake Zivin from preseason camp in Arizona. “Hopefully to get a good run of games where I can make a shout for being in Gregg [Berhalter]'s group for that summer camp.
“I think trying to get into that window, trying to get back into the national team. I know it's a tough goal to reach and if I miss short, it's one where at least I know I've been pushing myself.”
In a different world, Williamson would possibly be in a No. 8 role that’s so vital to Berhalter’s positional-play system. He’d be pushing for a spot alongside Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie and Luca de la Torre, a ball-progressing midfielder whose stock rose considerably from 2020-21 after his performances with Portland.
Williamson's ACL tear came days before the USMNT’s Octagonal slate began with a September window against El Salvador, Canada and Honduras. He earned his first four caps at the Gold Cup.
“Injuries happen in sports, but the timing of this one really cut deep,” Williamson said. “It was one I had just earned a lot of trust with Gregg and the national team, making my claim with the national team I can be there and I can play.
“A month later, you see qualifying and maybe it's a chance for me to get into that group. I talked to Gregg I think a week before the injury happened, and it's like 'You may not come this window but injuries happen, hiccups happen.' I was excited to get back in the rhythm of playing and getting there.”
To get back in that conversation, Williamson is focused on playing an important role for Portland in 2022. From afar, Williamson had to watch them host MLS Cup 2021 and fall to New York City FC on penalty kicks – an experience he said made him want to train even harder.
Now he’s confident that a full recovery is within reach, even targeting Portland’s Feb. 26 opener against the New England Revolution. That may be too soon, but he remains eager.
“It's going to take time,” Williamson said. “I get impatient at times, but my goal is to maybe be available for that first game. Hopefully two or three games after that, it's maybe a start, 45 minutes or something. It's just what I'm really pushing for. I don't want to push it to the point where it can harm myself, but at the same time it's gives and takes”