CHESTER, Pa. – It may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Sheanon Williams, but the Philadelphia Union defender’s last-minute call-up for the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament could not come at a worse time for his club.
Already suffering from injuries and inconsistent early-season play, the Union backline will lose their starting right back for at least one game after US Olympic coach Caleb Porter replaced Josh Gatt with Williams, who had previously been a part of a few U-23 camps but appeared to be on the outside looking in heading into qualifying.
Williams, who joins Philly teammates Freddy Adu and Amobi Okugo in Nashville, Tenn., will miss at least Saturday’s game in Chicago and perhaps Philly’s March 31 tilt vs. Vancouver at PPL Park, depending on how far the Americans advance in their quest for London 2012.
“I think everybody got caught by surprise because he wasn’t in the last two camps with the national team,” said Union manager Peter Nowak, who coached the United States’ last Olympic team in 2008. “I was communicated by the coach at the end of the January camp in Arizona and Costa Rica that they have better options at right back.
“In the meantime, we don’t have any kind of information that he might have been called to the team. We didn’t have any kind of indication that he may be called up last minute.”
In addition to Williams’ sudden departure, starting left back Porfirio López was called up to the Costa Rican national team to compete in Wednesday’s international friendly vs. Jamaica – although he will return to the club in time for Saturday’s game.
And then there’s the issue with center back Danny Califf (pictured right), who was held out of Philly’s last game because of offseason knee surgery, and another injury to Gabriel Farfan (right quad strain), one of the team’s top defensive reserves.
The most likely scenario is that veteran Chris Albright – who filled in for Califf at center back on Sunday – will move over to right back to replace Williams and join López, Califf and Carlos Valdés on the starting backline.
“My mentality coming into this year, regardless of Sheanon being called in, was just to be ready when called upon,” Albright said. “I have experience being in a lot of different situations on a lot of different teams. That’s what’s asked of you as a professional.
“I’ve played [right back] most of my career, so I’m comfortable playing there.”
Nowak also said Raymon Gaddis, a rookie out of West Virginia, could be in the mix to fill Williams’ spot. The Union manager called him a “tough defender” with “great speed” that’s still working on the tactical part of the professional game.
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“I think it’s a possibility,” Nowak said. “Ray was doing very well in the preseason. You don’t know 100 percent how the game is going to affect him with 20,000 [people] but he’s making great progress. … We’ll have the options, I’m sure of it.”
Even so, replacing someone of Williams’ caliber won’t be easy, especially if he ends up making the Olympic team in London.
“Sheanon has been a huge part of our team for the last year-and-a-half, so it’s going to be a big hole for us to fill,” Califf said. “But it’s an incredible opportunity for Sheanon. He’s got to go. Hopefully he gets a chance to play.
“He’s been, if not the best, one of the best right backs in the league, so I think he deserves a shot at playing in qualifying and going to the Olympics.”
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.