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On the Record

Here's What They're Saying About Danny Williams

Despite injury setbacks, U.S. international Danny Williams has been making steady progress with Reading and has his sights set squarely on the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
BY Laura Greene Posted
April 22, 2014
10:07 AM
INJURIES ARE A FAMILIAR foe to 25-year-old German-American midfielder Danny Williams. Progression, followed by setback.

Rewind and repeat. It’s been the story of Williams’ career so far.

However, last month Williams won his first international cap since November 2012 and—with more games under his belt in 2013-14 than in any other season over the last five years—perhaps things are changing for the better.

Here we take a look at Williams’ life before Reading, how he was initially received at the club, and how Royals fans’ perceptions have fluctuated over the last nine months.

Born in Karlsruhe, West Germany, Williams began his football career with Karlsruher SC before moving to SC Freiburg in 2004. He spent seven years there, working his way up through the youth and reserve ranks and making 16 appearances for the senior team.

His last Bundesliga campaign with Freiburg was derailed somewhat with a meniscal laceration, which reduced his playing time to just 15 games in all competitions. In August 2011, Williams moved to fellow Bundesliga side Hoffenheim and went straight into the first team, racking up 28 games in his first season at the club.

During this time Williams became a regular on the international scene, with five friendlies and five CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers to his name for the United States men’s senior team. The first player to earn his maiden U.S. cap under Jurgen Klinsmann, the son of an American father and a German mother had been swiftly brought into the fold after acquiring his U.S. passport in 2011.

The following season started well too. Williams was a regular starter for Hoffenheim and made two friendly appearances for the U.S. but injury curtailed his season once again in April—an ankle injury forcing him onto the sidelines and out of his club’s fight against relegation.

Over the summer break, the midfielder put pen to paper on a four-year contract at the Madejski Stadium on June 25, 2013.

The news was not met with universal cheers: “Who in their right mind would buy a player that hasn’t played a game since March?” commented Windermere_royal on Reading messageboard Hob Nob Anyone?

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

Chairman Sir John Madejski added: "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."

Freshly relegated from the Premier League, Reading wasted no time in introducing Williams to Championship football. He came on as a substitute in the first five games of the current season and the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.

“I thought Williams was superb when he came on and was the difference. Much better passer, showed vision going forward and good turn of pace. Very impressive debut,” typed One8Seven1 on Hob Nob Anyone? Following Williams’ debut on August 3.

“Class today, would like to see him come into the starting lineup next week,” added Royalee.

Williams told local newspaper GetReading on September 4 that he was pushing for a starting spot in the team: “I am happy that I can make an impact so far in every game that I’ve come on but I want to start the next one. I expected to play more but that just shows that I have to work harder. I want to show the people and the gaffer that I would die for my teammates because I hate to lose.”

Eleven days later, he got his wish.

Williams played 90 minutes against both Brighton and Hove Albion and Leeds United—a scoreless draw and 1-0 win, respectively—with the 25-year-old notching an assist against Leeds.

But then injury struck again on September 18 and Williams was ruled out for eight excruciating games after suffering a severe bone bruise on his foot.

On November 7, he spoke to GetReading: "It’s been the most frustrating six or seven weeks of my career. I couldn’t really do anything because I was in a lot of pain after the Leeds game."

"It’s the worst thing when you watch your team playing and you can’t help or support them. I always try my best to support them from the stands but it’s different to being on the pitch.

"It was a big bone bruise on my foot. It happened against Leeds in the first half but I had enough adrenaline in my body to finish that game. But after that for the next few days I couldn’t even walk. I knew something was wrong.”

Back into the team for the congested winter period, Williams racked up eight more Championship appearances before the New Year arrived.

Positive opinions of the former U.S. international seemed to have taken a hit. Perhaps Royals fans were looking for a scapegoat after the side’s run of four games without a win.

Typed Sanguine on Royals.org on Jan 2, 2014 had this to say: “I think Williams encapsulates the negative development of this team over the last few months. I don't remember if Watford was his debut, or his second or third appearance, but he looked like a very creative, pacy, and attacking midfielder who would cause defences problems breaking from midfield. Fast forward to the last game I saw, Bournemouth at home, and he seemed uncertain of his role and in possession and a bit lost on the field."

“I'm very disappointed in Williams,” added BR2. “Seeing him at the start of the season I thought we had an energetic, hard-tackling midfielder who likes to run at players similar to a Steve Sidwell but ever since that promising start I feel, at the end of a game, what did he do? Rather than a Steve Sidwell he has looked more like a Roger Joslyn and for an ex-Bundesliga and USA international player I would expect more.”

Z175 took a more balanced view: “I think in mitigation, players coming from abroad often take time to adjust to the physical nature of the English game, especially in the Championship. He can certainly pass the ball well and is pacey and actually an ok tackler of the ball, so is a classic box-to-box midfielder for me. The problem is, in a team full of confidence such a player would thrive. In a team unable to get a foothold in the game or keep the ball, he is being badly exposed as too lightweight.”

However, things were about to change. On January 11, Reading secured a 1-0 win against Watford and followed it up with a 7-1 win against Bolton Wanderers. Over the next five games, Reading were beaten just twice and recorded three wins, scoring 11 goals along the way. Williams tallied two of those 11 strikes.

The tide of perception was turning again, this time in a positive light. Who said football fans were fickle…?

On January 29, Brum Royal wrote on Hob Nob Anyone? “I'm now seeing what Williams brings to the team. A real all-around midfielder. Pace, ball winner, link man. Maybe he just needed time to bed in to English football. One swallow does not make a summer and all that, but if last night is an indication of what we're going to see from Williams in future, then I am happy to admit my doubting of him was wrong and we look to have a very good player on our hands.”

On February 19, Hayes wrote on Royalsrendezvous.co.uk, “Seems a bit of an unsung hero to me, having now actually watched a whole game, twice, he looks one hell of a powerhouse player. Now I may be wrong because I admit to only seeing him on the Telly but to me he looks like one of Adkins' best buys. Anyway this Yank looks like a player I might get off the sofa to watch one day.”

“It's taken a while for him to settle. Was a bit of a headless chicken at first, but now he's looking very good!” commented Tilehurstsouthbank.

“Growing into a great player, think it took a little time for him to settle here and his long injury over Autumn didn't help, but he seems to be improving with every game, a massive presence in midfield, gets about everywhere, never stops running, makes some great driving runs, good with his feet and finding the scoring nack now. Hope he continues in this way,” said Royal Crisp.

On February 22, Williams gave an interview to the Daily Star and had plenty to say:

“Every player wants to play in the Premier League and the World Cup—I am no different. If I can achieve both, I could easily look back and say the year 2014 was the best year of my life. It would mean everything to me.

“When you have the opportunity to play at the World Cup you have to do everything possible to be included. I always said that when I was fit again and can rely on my strengths then I could make it into the US team.

“Before my injury I was part of the national set-up quite a lot and unfortunately I suffered a bit at the beginning of the season. It was hugely frustrating that injury prevented me from playing, but at the moment I am happy, confident and looking forward to the next five months.”

In late February, Williams received his first international cap in more than 13 months. U.S. coach Klinsmann said in a statement, “This game is a huge opportunity, mainly for our European-based players, for those guys to prove to us that they are eager and hungry. With this game being the only chance for these players before our World Cup preparation camp begins, it's even more important they have a good showing."

Williams featured in 11 minutes of the 2-0 defeat against the Ukraine on March 5. Commenting on an MLSSoccer.com article after the game, U.S. fan Bryan Girkins wrote, “Beckerman still has the edge, but he should be worried. Williams is more athletic and much quicker. Still a great passer and can shoot from far out. The guy is in great form.”

Unfortunately, by March 8, Williams was injured. Again.

Five games on the sidelines were followed by a return for Reading in a 1-1 draw against Huddersfield on March 29. This was swiftly followed up by 90 minutes against Charlton Athletic in a 1-0 win away from home. Who scored the solitary goal? Danny Williams. Who—if any doubts remained—cemented his place in Royals fans’ affections by scoring an excellent driven shot with his right foot, followed by a jump into the travelling fans to celebrate his goal?

It was the side’s fifth win in a six-match unbeaten run away from home, which put the club sixth in the Championship. Williams received a small fine and a yellow card for his goal celebration.

“I don’t mind. If it means I can score a goal, I will jump into the crowd and the manager can fine me, I’m happy with that,” Williams told the Reading Chronicle on April 7.

“Saying that, I will talk to him. It was just emotional. I’m a very emotional guy when it comes to football. That’s why I’m always saying how important it is that the crowd is behind us. I am a player who really recognises the impact it can have, I feel it on the pitch.”

Teammate and club captain Jobi McAnuff told the club’s official website, "He's a real powerhouse in midfield, he drives forward with and without the ball. He's got energy, he wins his tackles, we were delighted with his goal and he took it well.”

There are three games left to go in the Championship season and, injury permitting, Williams will play a huge part as Reading chase promotion to the Premier League via the playoffs.

His inclusion with the U.S. team this summer remains to be seen but one thing is clear: Danny Williams is on the up.

OK, after reading this, what's your take on Williams? Do you see him in the 30-man provisional roster? On the 23-man World Cup team? Give us your take below.

Laura Greene is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow her on Twitter.

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