Josh Williams - Columbus Crew SC - in action against Toronto
USA Today Sports

For Crew SC's Josh Williams, Toronto FC series means "something extra"

OBETZ, Ohio – Throughout 2017, Columbus Crew SC defender Josh Williams has been keeping in touch with his friends from Toronto FC.

The Columbus defender played in Toronto in 2015 and 2016, and said he looks back fondly on his time with the club. He called Toronto one of his favorite cities, and said his years with TFC, which included a run to last year’s MLS Cup Final, marked “one of the best times of my life.”

Now, days away from facing his former club, Williams is willing to admit he’s thrilled to be playing a team he knows so well in the Eastern Conference Championship series.

“I wouldn’t be human if there wasn’t a little something extra; I’m not going to hide from that,” he said with a smile.

Williams said he talks regularly with his former teammates, many of whom he considers good friends. That’s slowed down a bit as the teams prepare to face each other next Tuesday at MAPFRE Stadium in the first leg of the series.

“The banter is constant,” he said. “We have a group thread and I’ve been texting a lot of those guys all year. It’s funny, that thread hasn’t popped up lately.”

But from Williams’ side, the “little something extra” he feels this week has nothing to do with ill will. He said he has “no hard feelings” toward an “organization that does it right.” And for a player who returned to Columbus this season after he was traded to New York City FC in 2014, he’s not one to burn bridges.

“That’s how business works,” he said. “If I was one to hold grudges, I wouldn’t be sitting here.”

Williams said he “won’t be asking for lineups or anything” from his former teammates, but still has a lot he can share for his current ones. He said that while head coach Gregg Berhalter’s scouting is extensive, being so familiar with Toronto can help him and his teammates.

With the suspension of Jozy Altidore confirmed, for instance, Williams knows he and his center back partner Jonathan Mensah will likely be facing Tosaint Ricketts, who he has plenty of experience defending in practice.

“Jonathan probably has no idea – he’s played him once, so he doesn’t have a lot of information on him,” Williams said. “For other guys, it’s little things here or there – when they get the ball, what they like to do, what they look for, what I’ve spoken to them about. Little stuff like that is what I can add.”

Berhalter knows the Toronto team well, but agreed that Williams could offer a bit of help to an already intense scouting effort.

“We’ve been picking his brain and getting some feedback on potential movements that they do or some of the psychology of the opponent,” Berhalter said. “It certainly helps to have that.”

A year that started frustratingly for Williams at a lack of playing time has turned into the ultimate chance to prove his worth in Columbus. And for him, Toronto represents just another step toward a perfect storyline of a season.

“To me, it would be the ultimate run,” he said. “Go to Atlanta, play in front of 70,000 and win there. Play a former team in New York City. Play a former team in Toronto. Host MLS Cup. That would be unbelievable for me.”