National Women's Soccer League
Lynn Williams Discusses MVP Status, Sunday's Final
October 06, 2016
A RELATIVE UNKNOWN through her collegiate and early professional career, American soccer fans are starting to take note of Lynn Williams.
Last year, the Western New York Flash selected Williams in the first round of the National Women’s Soccer League draft, but the team struggled through its 2015 campaign. Heading into this year, and devoid of stars, few believed the Flash would be competitive, let alone a championship-caliber team.
Now, Williams and the Flash sit on the cusp of winning an NWSL championship, heading into this Sunday’s final against the Washington Spirit (5pm ET, Fox Sports 1).
The Fresno, Calif., native has helped lead New York’s turnaround in 2016, scoring 11 goals in 19 games on her way to winning the Golden Boot and league MVP honors. However, speaking to American Soccer Now, Williams gave much of the credit for her success this year to her teammates.
“There’s so many great forwards in this league, just to be considered one of them is amazing,” said the Pepperdine alumna. “It shows all my hard work has paid off, as well as all my team’s hard work. I don’t score a goal without somebody passing me the ball, or our whole team working hard collectively. I like to think of it as I won the award on behalf of the team, not just myself.”
In 2015, Williams only tallied four times and the Flash finished with a 6-9-5 record. This year, Western New York earned a playoff spot with a 9-6-5 record and last weekend battled its way to a 4-3 extra time semifinal win in Portland to secure a place in this weekend’s final.
Williams proved to be the hero against Portland, scoring twice in overtime against the stingiest defense in the league. As Flash captain Abby Erceg put it, “She’s our Get Out of Jail Free card sometimes.”
Williams points to head coach Paul Riley for the team’s turnaround in 2016 and says he pushed all the right buttons, convincing the players to buy in to his team concept early on.
“Paul took us under his wing, he embraced us,” explained Williams. “He yelled at us when he needed to and he took us under his arm and gave us a hug when he needed to. The game plan and the belief in the team—he instilled a fighter’s mentality in us that we didn’t have last year.”
Williams also added that Riley provided her with the tools she needed to improve her individual game.
“Paul really helped me with my runs and sharpening my skills and my finishing,” she noted. “He really got me in front of the goal a lot this year at practice.”
Riley, for his part, couldn’t be more complimentary of Williams. Among other traits, he praised his forward’s willingness to learn, her humility, and her dedication in practice to improve all facets of her game.
“Lynn’s IQ of the game has improved, her athletic ability is second-to-none, probably, in the league. [Her] finishing has become better. She’s spent a lot of time in front of goal this year in practice,” Riley explained.
The coach also noted Williams’ focus and willingness to work hard off the ball in matches.
“You could see her celebration after she scored the fourth goal [against Portland],” said Riley. “If I had scored a goal like that I would have done nine somersaults, but she just jogs back and on we go again.”
“She plays both sides of the ball and not every forward does,” he later added.
Beautiful ball from Mewis, followed by a beautiful finish from Williams.— WNY Flash (@WNYFlash) October 4, 2016
Watch the goal that sealed Sunday's win ?? pic.twitter.com/MdSjwJXAnP
Williams said another factor in Western New York’s success this year is their team chemistry, stating the team is “one of the closest, tight-knit groups of people and one of the best teams that I’ve even been on.”
“We genuinely like each other [and] we hang out all the time,” she later added. “We’re so close that we can tell each other how it is without taking it personally, as well as praising each other on the field at the same time. Knowing you’re so close off the field helps you work harder for each other on the field.”
Before her journey to New York, Williams played for Pepperdine in Malibu, Calif. While the forward led her team with 14 goals as a senior, she flew beneath the radar of many teams. In the collegiate off-season, she played for the Pali Blues, a semi-professional team in Los Angeles where she caught the eye of Blues’ head coach Charlie Naimo.
When that team folded in 2014, Naimo became the technical director of Western New York and, spotting Williams’ potential, helped bring her to the Flash.
“If I’m not seen by Charlie, I don’t think I get drafted,” admitted Williams. “I went to Pepperdine, which isn’t known as one of the top soccer schools. It has a great soccer program and the West Coast Conference is really tough, but nationally, people don’t see Pepperdine as one of those big, standout names.”
Many also credit Naimo as the architect of the team’s 2015 draft class which included Samantha Mewis, Abby Dahlkemper, Jaelene Hinkle, and Sabrina D’Angelo—all starters on this year’s squad.
After the 2015 draft, Williams headed to Spain to play for the U.S. U-23s, along with Mewis, Dahlkemper, and Hinkle. The team won all three games at the Six Nations tournament, beating England, Japan, and Norway—with Williams scoring two of the team’s five goals in Spain.
Now, the senior squad has come calling with Jill Ellis rewarding Williams’ excellent season with her first national team call-up. However, Williams insisted her focus remains with the Flash for the time being.
“I just can’t focus on [the national team] right now. Last year, I had a hard year. I hurt my knee and had to rehab. I saw a lot of my friends called into camp. Mentally, that was hard,” she said.
“I was like, ‘I don’t know if they want me.’ But, this knee injury is probably the best thing that’s ever happened to me because I had to re-evaluate why I play soccer,” said Williams. “It’s because I just love the game.”
“I still just love playing soccer. [Playing for the U.S.] is a goal of mine, but I can’t focus on it [right now] because then I take my mind away from Sunday and playing for my club which is just as important to me,” she added.
“Right now, I’m just focused on Sunday.”
John D. Halloran is an American Soccer Now columnist. Follow him on Twitter.