Getty Images

USMNT’s Danny Williams eyes the Premier League

1 Comment

LONDON — Sat in a coffee shop down by the banks of the River Thames in London, England, life is treating Danny Williams pretty well.

There is however one burning desire eating away at the ambitious German-American midfielder as we chat: he wants to play in the Premier League.

[ STREAM: Watch every PL game live ] 

At Reading for the past three years, the 27-year-old came close to making the Championship playoffs in his debut season in England but the last two campaigns have been disappointing for the Royals as they aim to get back to the top-flight.

After starting his career in Germany’s top-flight with Hoffenheim, Williams feels he’s now entering his prime and is ready to push into the PL.

“When I first came here to England I said I wanted to help Reading get back to the Premier League,” Williams said, fidgeting as he lent back in his chair. “We missed the playoffs in the first year by one goal and I was in form back then and then I had a knee injury so I missed the last three or four games of that season.

“The last few seasons we’ve failed with that ambition but I’ve always said it to everybody, my ambition is to play at the highest level in the world. I was fortunate enough to experience the Bundesliga which is a great division to play but the Premier League, which kid doesn’t want to play in the Prem, you know? I would be lying if I say that I want to play in the Championship all the time. I’m too ambitious for that.”

He’s had strong looks from Swansea City in the January transfer window earlier this year, plus he’s been linked with moves to other Premier League teams but Williams is remaining focused on the here and now.

“What has been said in the press, there is always a lot of speculation, especially when you only have a year left on your contract and all these kind of things,” Williams said. “My goal is just to focus, to stay healthy and stay fit and last year I played 46 games. When you stay fit everything else will come together.”

READING, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 20: Danny Williams of Reading scores the opening goal of the game during the Sky Bet Championship match between Reading and Blackburn Rovers on December 20, 2015 in Reading, United Kingdom. (Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ben Hoskins/Getty Images)

More of a combative, holding midfielder during his days in the Bundesliga, Williams has transformed his game in recent seasons to become a more traditional box-to-box midfielder.

“I’ll do whatever the manager wants me to do but for myself, I think I have too much energy to just be sitting in front of the back four and to tackle and pass the ball to other plays,” Williams said. “I see myself being able to influence the game a bit more with box-to-box runs. There’s a reason why over the last two to three years managers have seen me as a box-to-box midfielder because they are experienced managers. My best position is No. 8 where I can be a bit more involved in the attacking and also going back. Hopefully I get some more chances this year to prove that.”

[ VIDEO: Williams scores screamer vs. Brazil ]

Last season he scored six goals, the best haul in one season in his career, and he’s ready to score even more this season to push Reading on. New Reading manager Jaap Stam has used Williams in midfield in a 4-3-3 system and he’s counting on the U.S. international to be a leader for the Royals this season. Of the current squad only three players have played for Reading more than Williams has over the past three seasons as he’s become the energetic hub of their midfield.

“I always wanted to be more of a threat in front of goal,” Williams explained. “Since I move to England, people have seen me as a box-to-box midfielder. In Germany I had played in a more defensive role and for the national team as well. In Reading I have the freedom to go box-to-box and I told myself ‘if you want to be a box-to-box midfielder you have to add goals.’ So I worked hard on that in the training ground. I could have had a few more but six was alright…”

Sipping on a milky latte and smiling with his heavily tattooed arms crossed, Williams had just been dashing around central London prior to our chat. He’s relaxed and happy with life off the pitch as the man from Karlsruhe loves living in south west London, a close commute to Reading.

With new manager Stam in charge this season at the Madejski Stadium, Williams revealed he’s been impressed with the legendary Dutch defender in the short time he’s got to spend with him on the training ground. They will aim to keep the ball and with a young team they’re an unknown quantity. This weekend they kick off their Championship campaign against Preston North End as the grueling 46-game season begins in England’s second-tier.

“We are kind of like the underdogs this season,” Williams said. “Compared to three years ago when Reading had money to spend, everybody is a bit unsure as to what the season will bring but that is a good thing. Players are ambitious, we have a lot of young players and I hope that we are going to do well especially at the beginning of the season because that gives young players confidence.”

HIGH WYCOMBE, ENGLAND - JULY 24: Danny Williams of Reading during the Pre Season Friendly match between Reading and Swansea City at Adams Park on July 24, 2015 in High Wycombe, England. (Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tony Marshall/Getty Images)

After runs to the FA Cup semifinals and quarterfinals in the past two seasons, it’s clear the makings of a good team are present at Reading. But in a league which now boasts fallen PL giants Newcastle United and Aston Villa, plus the likes of Norwich, Brighton, Leeds United, Wolves and many other huge clubs with large fanbases, getting out of the second-tier is increasingly tough.

Should Reading consider themselves among the favorites to reach the promised land of the Premier League?

“After the last two seasons we can’t say we are one of the favorites,” Williams said. “Obviously the long-term goal of the club is to be back in the Premier League and the club has all the conditions and facilities to be in the Premier League. After the last two seasons which were very disappointing, I think we should lower the expectations a little bit and we shouldn’t put as much pressure on ourselves. We have a lot of young players so I don’t know how they will deal with the pressure of saying ‘okay, we are going to go straight up.’ That’s a bit unrealistic. We have to take it game by game. Every year in the Championship there is one surprise team. Look at Brighton last year who fought against relegation the year before and then finished in third. If we are that team this year then that’s great.”

[ VIDEO: Williams rifles home beauty for Reading ]

On the international stage Williams has made 19 appearances for the U.S. national team since 2011 but in the past 12 months he’s had some ups and downs with the USMNT. From scoring a stunning goal in the USA’s incredible 4-3 friendly win against Holland in Amsterdam in the summer of 2015 to netting a peach against Brazil in another friendly, the past few months have been tougher.

Called up for a training camp in Miami in May and then appearing in a friendly against Puerto Rico, Williams was left out of Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad for the Copa America Centenario in the U.S. this summer with the likes of Perry Kitchen, Kyle Beckerman and Darlington Nagbe selected ahead of him.

Williams admitted it hurt to watch on from California as his teammates made the final four without him.

“I followed it and watch it with my friends and everything. It obviously kills you when you are not involved,” Williams said. “It kills you. In 2014 I missed the World Cup due to a knee injury and then in 2016, I would say I did enough to maybe be selected and be in the squad. Like I’ve always said, the Championship is not a bad league. It is really, really tough. I played a lot of games and was in really good shape and I felt like I could really help the team.

“I was a bit sad that I didn’t get a chance to help the team but that’s the decision of other people and it is not in my hands. That’s why I say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. There is 2018 around the corner anyways, so I just have to stay healthy and look to get my spot with the national team.”

With the USMNT having two 2018 World Cup qualifiers coming up in September, Williams is aiming to have a bright start to the season and get in Klinsmann’s squad.

“As a player you want to play in every game, especially for the U.S. The nation is just unbelievable,” Williams said. “I know a lot of players there really well. They are friends and it is always good to be with the national team. I made my debut about five years ago. I’ve been there for a long time. I would love to be involved in these World Cup qualifiers but like I said it is not in my hands. I will try to play well, stay fit and add more goals but at the end of the day it isn’t my decision. You have to work hard and see what happens.”

FOXBORO, MA - SEPTEMBER 08: Danny Williams #14 of the United States reacts after scoring a goal during an international friendly against Brazil at Gillette Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)
(Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

The plan for Williams’ future in England is a little more clear cut. With one year left on his contract at Reading, now is his time to make the step up.

“When you’re 27 you are not too old, you’re not too young. When I look back I would say before I was maybe a little bit naive,” Williams said. “Now you know your body better, on the pitch you deal with situation’s different than when you were younger. You definitely know what you have to do to be the best you can be on the pitch. I feel like I am in my prime.”

Reflecting on his career path to date, Williams is hungry for more while he’s in his prime.

“I’m hungry for more because I am not playing at the highest level… yet,” Williams said, with a smile on his face. “I’m happy with the education I had in Germany because that helped me a lot. Germans are always good technically and tactically. That has helped me a lot. So does growing up playing with players who are now in the Champions League. That’s a good thing. I can sit here and talk about them and see them playing in the Champions League… but I don’t play there. So, it’s about me now and what I want to do for myself.

“I am ambitious enough to get even better, to stay hungry and to move higher up. That’s what I’m aiming for at the moment. Some players do their head in because they look too much at what their friends are doing and saying ‘why is he there and why is it not me?’ I am happy with my choices I made. I love it in England. I am fortunate enough to live in London at the moment. I am settled here now and I am just looking forward to the season.”

MLS Decision Day preview: Much at stake

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP
Leave a comment

Four teams can claim a Western Conference second round berth, while four more can earn a valuable first-round bye in the East.

Yep, there’s plenty to play for beyond the West’s final playoff spot Sunday during Major League Soccer’s Decision Day, when every team will take the pitch for 4 p.m. ET kickoffs.

[ MORE: Conte feels pressure ]

Here’s what we do know regarding the playoffs:

  1. Supporters’ Shield winning Toronto FC gets a first round bye, while No. 6 seed New York Red Bulls are headed to the road for a first round playoff
  2. New England, Montreal, Philadelphia, Orlando, DC, Minnesota, Colorado, and LA will not make the playoffs
  3. Full stop.

So, yes, this will be fun.

First, let’s look at the Eastern Conference Standings ahead of Sunday’s extravaganza:

Eastern Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
Toronto FC 33 20 8 5 72 35 37 13-3-1 7-5-4 68
x – New York City FC 33 16 8 9 54 41 13 10-4-2 6-4-7 56
x – Chicago 33 16 7 10 61 44 17 12-3-2 4-4-8 55
x – Atlanta 33 15 9 9 68 38 30 11-2-3 4-7-6 54
x – Columbus 33 16 5 12 51 47 4 12-2-3 4-3-9 53
x – New York 33 13 8 12 51 46 5 9-6-2 4-2-10 47

— New York City FC controls its bye destiny, though Columbus could join them on 56 points and would pass them on tiebreakers (wins).

— If that happens, Chicago could claim the second bye with a win or draw in Houston (The Fire owns the goal differential tiebreaker).

— If New York City and Chicago lose or draw, Atlanta could finish second with a home win over TFC.

— Columbus can finish second with a win and non-wins for Chicago and Atlanta.

  • Columbus Crew SC win vs. New York City FC on Sunday and …
  • Chicago Fire tie or lose vs. Houston Dynamo on Sunday and …
  • Atlanta United tie or lose vs. Toronto FC on Sunday
Western Conference
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
x – Vancouver 33 15 7 11 49 47 2 9-5-3 6-2-8 52
x – Portland 33 14 8 11 58 49 9 10-4-2 4-4-9 50
x – Seattle 33 13 11 9 49 39 10 10-5-1 3-6-8 50
x – Sporting KC 33 12 13 8 39 27 12 10-6-1 2-7-7 49
x – Houston 33 12 11 10 54 45 9 11-4-1 1-7-9 47
San Jose 33 12 7 14 36 58 -22 9-5-2 3-2-12 43
FC Dallas 33 10 13 10 43 47 -4 7-7-2 3-6-8 43
Real Salt Lake 33 12 6 15 47 54 -7 8-4-4 4-2-11 42

Byes

— Vancouver finishes first with a win or draw at Portland. The ‘Caps could finish as low as third with a loss to Portland and a Seattle win versus Colorado.

— Portland finishes first — and wins the Cascadia Cup — with a win over visiting Vancouver.

— Seattle can claim a first round bye with a win over visiting Colorado and a Vancouver win over Portland.

— Sporting KC can finish second with a win at Real Salt Lake and non-wins for Portland and Seattle.

Final playoff spot

— San Jose claims the sixth seed with a home win over Minnesota. They can also finish sixth with a draw joined by non-wins for FC Dallas at home to LA and Real Salt Lake at home versus SKC.

— FC Dallas claims the sixth seed with a win over LA and a San Jose draw or loss versus Minnesota. FCD gets sixth with a draw, and a San Jose loss coupled with a RSL loss or draw versus SKC.

—  Real Salt Lake gets sixth with a win over SKC, and non-wins from San Jose and Dallas. RSL could also get sixth with a draw and losses for San Jose and Dallas.

(Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)

Schedule
FC Dallas vs. LA Galaxy
DC United vs. New York Red Bulls
San Jose vs. Minnesota United
Real Salt Lake vs. Sporting KC
Houston vs. Chicago
Seattle vs. Colorado
Philadelphia vs. Orlando City
Portland vs. Vancouver
Montreal vs. New England
New York City vs. Columbus
Atlanta vs. Toronto

Predictions

— NYCFC hangs on for a draw against Columbus, earning a bye, leaving Chicago to host New York Red Bulls and Atlanta off to Columbus for the first round of the playoffs (We have Toronto beating Atlanta on Sunday).

— Vancouver and Portland draw, while Seattle beats Colorado. The ‘Caps and Sounders get byes, while Seattle takes back the Cascadia Cup.

— San Jose beats Minnesota, gaining the West’s sixth seed. The Quakes head to Portland for the first round, while SKC hosts Houston.

Conte feels pressure, but “most important thing is to work”

Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Chelsea has sputtered a bit in its bid to repeat as Premier League champions, though this isn’t quite “stop me if you’ve heard this one before.”

The Blues sit fifth in the Premier League table with 13 points, nine behind leaders Manchester City, and tossed away a 2-0 lead before rallying to draw Roma at midweek.

The Blues host fourth-placed Watford to kick off Saturday’s Premier League action at 7:30 a.m. ET Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

[ MORE: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

And while fans are frustrated with the plan, Chelsea was in 15th at the end of October during Jose Mourinho’s ill-fated follow-up to the 2014-15 Premier League title.

Still, manager Antonio Conte feels their pain, although he’s satisfied with the effort. From Chelsea’s official site:

“Do I feel the pressure? Every manager feels pressure, but I try to give all of myself into my job, so I’m happy when I go home because I know in every moment I give all of myself for the fans, the players and the club. In football you know anything can happen, but the most important thing is to work.”

Chelsea may not look as good as Man City or Manchester United, but is still well-positioned to finish amongst the leaders and is leading a very difficult UCL group with Roma and Atletico Madrid. Things are fine, but the gossip storm just won’t leave Conte and his future at Chelsea alone (Thanks, Italian press).

Bilic, Fonte react to brutal home loss to Brighton

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
Leave a comment

Jose Fonte tried to shoulder some of the blame after West Ham United piled more pressure on its manager with a 3-0 home loss to Brighton and Hove Albion on Friday.

“It’s not only the manager, it’s the players as well,” Fonte said. “We have an unbelievable squad and should not be in this position.”

[ RECAP: West Ham 0-3 Brighton ]

Fonte said he understands why fans are booing the club, which has eight points and sits in the bottom half of the Premier League.

Given the club’s summer spending, with Javier Hernandez, Joe Hart, and Marko Arnautovic amongst the buys, pressure’s been on Bilic to deliver the goods. So far, the Irons have not.

Bilic did not deny his role nor his responsibility. From the BBC:

“It’s very hard for me to say anything clever now. I take full responsibility for it. I don’t want to hide.

“It is not a good situation and the board will do what they are going to do. It’s their decision.”

Not a man who feels like he’ll have his job much longer, but is it fair? A lot of West Ham’s key pieces are new, but surely they are not a club who should be peering over its collective shoulder to see the drop zone.

West Ham 0-3 Brighton: Gulls fly past Irons

Leave a comment
  • Murray heads Gross free kick
  • Izquiero strikes from distance
  • West Ham blanked at home
  • Murray earns, converts PK

Glenn Murray scored twice and Jose Izquiero also scored to lead visiting Brighton and Hove Albion past West Ham United 3-0 at London Stadium on Friday.

The loss will do nothing to ease the pressure on West Ham manager Slaven Bilic.

Brighton moves into 10th with 11 points, behind Newcastle United on goal differential. West Ham’s eight points keep them ahead of 16th place Everton, also on goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Brighton took a lead in the 10th minute when Premier League veteran Murray lost Pedro Obiang and turned Pascal Gross‘ free kick across a diving Joe Hart and inside the far post.

Murray now has PL goals for Brighton and Hove Albion, Bournemouth, and Crystal Palace.

West Ham had chances from Marko Arnautovic, Michail Antonio, and — perhaps most dangerous, a left-footed rip from Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez that nearly saw its way inside the far post.

And then… well, wow. Izquierdo darted inside from the left and hit his hard shot at Hart, who could only slap the ball inside his goal:

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Manuel Lanzini threatened with a slightly deflected 65th minute free kick, and the Irons wasted the ensuing corner.

A dizzying, creative run by Anthony Knockaert provided Murray a 1v1 with Hart, but a second touch allowed the keeper to close down the Englishman.

Murray earned Brighton a PK within a minute, unable to get past the block of Pablo Zabaleta. He took his shot well.