Thursday, January 19, 2012

One on One with Andy Williams

 At the end of the 2011 MLS season, one of Major League Soccer’s veterans retired. After 14 years in the league, Andy Williams chose to hang up his boots and pick up a clipboard as he joined the Real Salt Lake technical staff. After winning an MLS Cup, representing his national team and building a life in Utah, the Jamaican is able to look back on his career with pride.

I caught up with Andy to find out just what he’s been up to in the offseason, how his retirement is working out and whether or not he’ll ever open up that Jamaican restaurant the fans so badly want him to.

MLS Reserves:  Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. Can you start of by talking about your decision to retire and how you came to it?

Andy Williams: “It was an agreement with the coaching staff and the GM. They were looking at an 18 month schedule and when you factor in my age, I’d be pushing 36… They gave me the option to play for another team or they’d create a job for me with Real. I wanted to stay within the family. Instead of me going somewhere and being in a situation where I’m in limbo with a job after soccer, I basically felt my family loves it here, I’ll stay. The decision was tough, because I wanted to play another year. My last game I didn’t know was my last game. I wont ever forget that situation of not knowing. .. but my family loves it here.”

MLS Reserves: What has the decision meant for your family? Particularly with all that has gone on with your wife and in the community?

Andy Williams: “The love it, the support we got when Marcia was sick from our neighbors, fans and in MLS has been amazing. We’re very blessed.”

Williams and his family were dealt a difficult blow several years ago when his wife, Marcia Williams, was diagnosed with AML type 6 leukemia. While many would have paused their careers or even bowed down to the adversity, the Williams family fought through it together. Andy continued to play, with the full support of the Real Salt Lake community and his wife underwent treatment. Their bond was made even stronger and those around them bore witness to it.

MLS Reserves: How have you spent your offseason? I’m told you underwent surgery, can you talk about that?

Andy Williams: “It was simple, just some bone spurs we found in August. A bit of exercise with the trainer and we found them. I got an X-Ray to see why my range of movement was so limited.  We found four bone spurs in the joint and cleaned them out towards the end of December.”

“For a surgery they said was pretty simple, it still hurts. Haha, it’s only been three or four weeks but I’ll be alright.”

MLS Reserves: Looking towards the future, what are your plans and how involved in RSL are you?

Andy Williams: “My title right now is ‘Head Scout’. What I’ve been doing from day one is filtering through all the international talents that we’ve received from agents. Going through and creating top ten lists in every position…sifting through that daily. We get 20 or 30 a day from all over the world. I filter those out.”

“Another thing I’ll be doing is working with our academy down in Arizona. I’ll be heading down there next month to introduce myself to the coaches and basically be the in between guy for them and the team.

MLS Reserves:  Will you be working with youth development styles or specifically scouting players?

Andy Williams: “A bit of both actually. I know what Jason wants in a player and I can show the coaches at the academy what we do up here with Real. That way if we do get kids who come up, it’s easier for them to adjust.

MLS Reserves: Your name clearly resonates with the citizens and fans in Salt Lake City. What has that connection with the fans there meant to you?

Andy Williams: “I call this my home. Haha, I was born in Toronto, grew up in Jamaica and moved around a lot throughout my career but the way I’ve been treated here, it’s the main reason I didn’t want to leave. It’s amazing. I could have left to play another year, but why bother when you’ve built a comfortable home and family with everyone around you. It’s a tight community, not just soccer wise, but my neighborhood and friends. People you’d never expect… in another city I don’t think we’d have ever had as much support.”

“It’s almost like a story book when you think about it. Haha.”

In 2005 Andy Williams was Real Salt Lake’s first pick in the Expansion Draft. Previously he’d played for five teams in his first six years with MLS. It was with Real Salt Lake that he truly found his home.

MLS Reserves: Now for the tough questions Andy, what were your best moments in Salt Lake?

Andy Williams: “Easily the best was the 2009 Championship run. That was super special because that’s when Marcia was going through her illness. We fought it together and the team and fans got behind us to fight it. The team helped us out so much… just to go through that, with her remission and then winning the championship that year…I don’t think you could write a better story.”

MLS Reserves: Worst moments?

Andy Williams: “Those first few years. It sucked going everyday when we kept losing and only winning three games in a season. It was hard. That’d have to be the worst.”

Williams lets out a heavy sigh looking back and it’s easy to see he’d just as soon forget them. The times Andy is referring to are the opening seasons in 2005, 06 and 07 before Jason Kreis took over as head coach. In fact, Williams and Kreis were teammates during those years.

MLS Reserves: Most importantly, when are you opening a Jamaican restaurant in Salt Lake City?

Andy Williams: “Haha! You’d have to ask my wife! She’s on twitter [@HotwifeofBomma] and she takes pictures of whatever she’s cooking… We know the restaurant business is not easy so we’re kind of scared to do it! We know we want to but it’d be tough. I’d love to bring it, we need one in Salt Lake haha. I think it would do well because, and not just because she’s my wife, she can really cook.”

Retirements are rarely a good thing, but in the case of Andy Williams, he can look back on his career with pride. Through soccer he has found his home in Utah, a community with which he is especially close and a future that will keep him with the game. Not all pro athletes are so lucky. With regards to Williams, it has little to do with luck. Rather, it’s his devotion to the game…and those around him, which have landed him where he is today.