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Americans Abroad

Danny Williams Is Finding His Stride at Reading

The midfielder moved from the Bundesliga to the English Championship this summer, and the transition got off to a slow start. But Brian Sciaretta learned that things are looking up for the U.S. international.

BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
October 01, 2013
1:27 PM
AT FIRST GLANCE, the central midfield for the United States national team appears to be the deepest position on the team. Upon closer inspection, however, it might not be as rosy as it seems.

Michael Bradley is likely the best American player in the game, but he is injured and will eventually have to fight his way back into the Roma first team. Jermaine Jones’ situation at Schalke is clouded with reports of him playing with an aching knee and being suspended by his club this week. Sacha Kljestan is a Champions League player at Anderlecht but has never been part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s core. Kyle Beckerman and Mix Diskerud have had strong summers but are still not established.

One player who is not being talked about? Danny Williams. The 24-year-old German-American moved to English Championship side Reading in the summer after parting ways with Hoffenheim. At the time it was a difficult period for Williams who was injured for the Bundesliga's final three months and was not able to participate in the relegation battle.

Moving to England was bold decision for Williams, who had never played professionally outside of Germany. Further complicating matters, his injury lingered after his arrival in England, and it took him a while to break into Reading’s first team.

Once he became fully fit and adjusted to English soccer, he began to show signs of the player he was at Hoffenheim. The turning point came on August 31 when he entered into a game against Yeovil Town as a first-half sub. Playing his usual defensive midfield position, Williams played the final 53 minutes in 1-0 win. The following game he went a full 90 in a 0-0 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion, and subsequently went another 90 three days later where he was instrumental in helping Reading earn a 1-0 win over Leeds.

Two-hundred thirty-three consecutive minutes of holding opponents scoreless is a good a statistic for any defensive midfielder, but for Williams it signaled that his injury-plagued season was fading in the rearview mirror.

“You’re out of your rhythm and then you start to think maybe I did something wrong,” Williams told American Soccer Now. “I’m injured all the time. It was a really hard time for me. I’m very thankful that I now have an opportunity to play and prove myself."

"The Championship is not an easy league," he continued." Look at QPR: They are leading the league and all the games are close, 1-0 or 1-1. It’s a lot different [than Germany]. The Championship is difficult but it’s quite good for me. The pace is immense. It is a new experience. Everything is going well. Of course it took a little bit of time to get settled in. I’m quite happy so far.”

The start of the 2013-14 season was a time of adjustment for the entire squad. Relegated from the Premier League last year, Reading brought in several new players and was still adapting to head coach Nigel Adkins, who was hired at the end of March.

Not surprisingly, the team struggled at first. Reading won just once in its first four games and was bounced from the League Cup in embarrassing fashion—a 6-0 loss to League One side Peterborough. Since then, however, the club has gone on to win four of five and amass 13 of a possible 15 points.

“Everybody was talking about getting relegated because we didn’t start so well,” Williams explained. “Now we’re unbeaten at home in 13 games and we’re starting to win important games. We’re only five points from QPR, two points from second place. It took a little bit of time for the team to find each other but the players are now used to each other. We have a really coach and our goal is to get promoted.”

For Williams, the journey to England was part of path he always wanted to take. Despite growing up in Germany, he was always passionate about playing in England and the Premier League. Prior to this summer, he had never played a competitive game in England but when Reading expressed interest in the summer, it gave him a great opportunity to realize his dream.

Reading were still a second division team but it had earned promotion to the Premier League twice over the past decade and was expected to contend again this summer.

“Every little kid follows the Premier League,” Williams explained. “Teams like Manchester United, Chelsea, and Arsenal—you know these clubs when you’re a little kid. It’s a dream of every little kid to play English football. I know that Reading is in the Championship but my goal is to play in the Premier League with them. I’ve played in the Bundesliga and I think that is one of the best leagues in the world. So I’ve proven I can do it. It’s a great experience to help this club to get promoted and make my dream come true."

"When I heard that Reading was interested, I knew straightaway I would go there. It was a team that wants to get back up and we’re one of the favorites to get promoted.”

The feeling is very much mutual.

"Danny is a versatile player, he possesses great energy and already has great experience in one of the top leagues in Europe,” Reading’s director of football Nick Hammond said. “At his age, he still has plenty of development ahead of him."

Chairman Sir John Madejski agreed, remembering fondly the days when other United States internationals played at Reading. "These are exciting times for the club and Danny's acquisition is another step forward for us. I remember American players Marcus Hahnemann and Bobby Convey doing very well in a Reading shirt in recent years and I am certain Danny will do the same."

When Williams returns soon from his latest injury, he will also have another goal in addition to leading Reading to promotion. This month will mark the second anniversary of his first callup to the U.S. national team – just days after he obtained his first U.S passport.

For the first year he appeared regularly with the U.S. and he played particularly well in the last few World Cup qualifiers in 2012. This year, however, he has seen his time with the team decline largely due to injury. He was called up to camp in May for a series of World Cup qualifiers but withdrew because of injuries. In August he was called up for a friendly against Bosnia but he was still not match fit.

For Williams, his absence from the U.S. national team has come at a time when Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad has gone on an incredible run—winning the Gold Cup, qualifying for the World Cup, and defeating Bosnia and Germany in high-profile friendlies. The good news is that the team’s success has allowed it to have four games in 2013 with little on the line. Williams is in contact with Klinsmann and he hopes to make a case for inclusion.

“We speak,” Williams said of Klinsmann. “He told me I am still an important player and he wants me to get fit again. Last year was bad year for me. I was injured for three months. He wants me to get settled down in England which is what I have started to do. He said the door is not closed and that he is following me in the Championship. If I get my rhythm back, I can play exactly like I did against Jamaica last year in qualifying.”

While he has been away from the team, Williams has followed the U.S. team closely. he stays in touch with many of his fellow American players in England, including Everton’s Tim Howard and Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron. He is a big admirer of how far the U.S. national team has progressed over the past year.

Even though 2012 was statistically a good year for the U.S., it was mired by long stretches of poor play. In fact, when Guatemala scored the opening goal of the final World Cup qualifier in the semifinal round, the U.S. was staring at a stunning elimination. The Yanks are now playing like a team on the verge of breaking into the top 10 of the FIFA World Rankings.

Williams is confident that he can help the team in its journey.

“Like always, when a coach comes in with a new philosophy, the players have to get used to it,” Williams said. “The players have to understand what the coach wants. I am very happy to see the team growing. The wins over Germany, Bosnia, and Mexico show that we are doing that. The team showed it can beat big teams."

"Klinsmann has always said our goal is to beat the big nations because at the World Cup you can’t choose who you can play—only that you will play the best in the world," he continued. "I’m looking forward to playing with them again. I always follow the team and I stay in touch with so many of the players. I am so happy they made it to the World Cup. Unfortunately I couldn’t play in more qualifiers but my biggest goal for the U.S is to go on training for the World Cup team."

"I will do everything for that.”

Brian Sciaretta is a frequent ASN contributor. Follow him on Twitter.

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