JJ Williams - Columbus Crew SC - close-up

Little more than a year after being selected in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft's first round, JJ Williams' time with Columbus Crew SC came to an end.

The team that drafted him No. 18 overall placed him on waivers this preseason, as he was deemed surplus to requirements behind unquestioned starting forward Gyasi Zardes. Still technically under contract with MLS thanks to his Generation adidas contract, he was loaned to USL Championship side Birmingham Legion. He excelled with Birmingham in 2019, where he got the majority of his minutes. He was ready to do so again, even getting some buzz to be in the Golden Boot race. 

Now, circumstances have granted the forward a "dream" chance with Atlanta United, signing for the reigning U.S. Open Cup champions just ahead of MLS Week 2.

“It was a lot," Williams, 22, told MLSsoccer.com last week. "Waivers is not a fun process. You don’t know where you’re going to end up. It was a weird process, but it worked out for the better.”

Josef Martinez, Atlanta's superstar forward, went down with a torn ACL during the club's first regular-season match of 2020. With a sudden need at forward, Williams thought he might be an option for the Five Stripes. 

“It came across my mind," Williams admitted. "I was thinking how crazy it’d be if I ended up here. It’s a dream club, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up.”

Atlanta got in contact to acquire the forward, and his signing was made official March 9 after Martinez's long-term injury.

“I was so excited," Williams said. "I called my parents to tell them, 'This is crazy. This is what we’ve been waiting for.' I wish it’d have gone differently, in that we’d be playing games, but it feels good to be in these colors.”

Williams was one of the NCAA's leading goalscorers in 2018 with the University of Kentucky, but hasn't yet made his mark in MLS, with 325 minutes over seven appearances with the Crew. However, the Alabama native did manage seven goals over 23 appearances on loan with Birmingham.

Already stuck behind Zardes in Columbus, the Crew added forward Jordan Hamilton last July and then Fanendo Adi this winter. After being on the fringe, Williams is looking forward to getting a chance in Atlanta. 

“It’s great being able to go to a place where a coach sees your potential and is willing to give you a chance," Williams said. "You work as hard as you can, just put all your chips on the table and see where they fall.”

Currently, Adam Jahn is Atlanta's only other natural option at center forward. He joined last offseason from USL side Phoenix Rising, where he had 17 goals. Whenever MLS resumes, Williams could face his best chance at earning MLS minutes. 

“I feel like I have a really good opportunity here," Williams said. "With how things are sitting as of now, the situation I’m in. … Whenever my number is called, I just have to be ready.”