SHEANON WILLIAMS kinda likes being the underdog.
In fact, he loves it.
Around this time last season, Williams wasn't even a blip on the Union landscape biding his time with the club's USL-2 minor league affiliate in Harrisburg. In fact when he was brought up to the club last August, I distinctly remember listening to a pair of supporters having the following dialogue:
Fan 1: Who the hell is Shannon Williams?
Fan 2: No clue, man. Some new dude off the reserves in Harrisburg.
Fan 1: Oh, geez . . .
Those same Union fans are probably the people filling out MLS online ballots to get Williams recognized as a All-Star in the July 27 match vs. Manchester United at Red Bull Arena. Williams, 21, quietly has become one of the league's most potent defenders. His toughness gives the Union an imposing presence at right fullback while his speed makes him a versatile utility man, spreading the width of the pitch with his effective flank play. Also his cannon-like throw-ins add yet another element of surprise to his mystique.
"That's kind of just been the way things have always gone for me," Williams said in response to doubters. "You know, it happens and you move on and quietly go onto bigger and better things."
It's not as if Williams' resume up to this point didn't speak volumes for his potential. He has played in a pair of FIFA World Cups for the United States on both the Under-17 and Under-20 levels, and even gave up his college career at North Carolina to try his luck professionally in Germany (VfL Wolfsburg) and Holland (FC Twente), where he was offered trial spells. Unable to grab a contract, he returned to the States, never giving up a dream to play first-division football - somewhere.
"It's been a long journey for me and I have just been waiting for my chance to show what I can do," Williams said. "The coaching staff here gave me a chance and I just ran with it and I am not going to look back."
This season, Williams is part of a defense that is among the best in MLS, allowing just 12 total goals, second behind Real Salt Lake - which has eight - but with more games in hand. He has started all 15 matches at right back and doesn't intend to sit any time soon. Though many players have said that it's a grind to keep a starting role under manager Peter Nowak, Williams is one of just four players who have played every match.
"The four of us have been playing together all season and we are more comfortable," Williams said. "I know that all of them are going to have my back and I am going to have their back and we are doing well right now, so . . ."
It's OK, Sheanon, let your critics finish the sentence.
OH, DANNY MWANGA
Due to injury and a revolving lineup, Danny Mwanga has been bounced around. However, I found an upbeat Mwanga - who leads the Union in scoring with four goals - as he explained that while the inconsistency is frustrating, it's all part of the business side of soccer he's still trying to figure out. Mwanga is listed as probable with a knee contusion suffered at the end of last Saturday's 1-0 loss to Vancouver, but "will be good to go for Saturday," according to Union trainer Paul Rushing.
"Obviously it's tough. As a player, you want to start, you want to get in every game," Mwanga said. "But whenever the coaching staff puts someone ahead of me, I use it as motivation to prove I deserve to be there instead. At the same time, I trust the coaching staff to put out the lineup they think is best for the team. I just want to be able to provide whatever the team is going to need. Whether that is coming off the bench or being on the bench supporting the team. Of course if I was healthy, yeah I feel I am ready to start every match, but the coaching staff has to make that decision, not me."
And they say diplomacy is dead.
BUILDING BACK CARLOS
Fresh off a successful Gold Cup campaign with Guatemala, Carlos Ruiz returned to Philly with a bang on Wednesday, making his presence felt up top. In fact, Ruiz nearly notched his third game-winner of the season after a backpedaling header found the crossbar in the 72nd minute. Since his departure, Ruiz has been rumored in a return to Mexico with Puebla, a team he spent a season with during a 3-year overseas jaunt after leaving MLS in 2007. Ruiz told the Daily News that he has not been contacted by any Mexican clubs and that the rumor may have started by an overzealous president at Puebla.
"I am very happy to come back and play for Philly, I am happy to see my teammates. To be honest with you no one [from any team] has contacted me - yet," Ruiz said. "People are talking about 'Carlos Ruiz is gonna sign with a Mexican team,' but it's just the news. I think the president of my old team in Puebla, he spoke [to the media] to the effect that he is trying hard to get Carlos Ruiz back on the team, but I don't know why he said that, because to this day no one has contacted me."
As far as Peter Nowak is concerned Ruiz isn't going anywhere and further explained that Ruiz is the one constant he plans to build his offense around going forward. Nowak noted that "it's the little things" Ruiz does that are seldom brought to light and that all the negativity and speculation surrounding his $307,000 firecracker needs to fizzle out.
ODDS AND ENDLINES
Got a mea culpa for you: In yesterday's Daily News game story, I wrote that the Union was 10-0-4 all-time at PPL Park. Wrong. And probably why I am a writer and not a mathematician. In actuality, the Union is 10-3-10 all-time at PPL, which honestly is equally impressive . . . No update on midfielder Stefani Miglioranzi, who spent close to an hour postgame in Nowak's office after Wednesday's match . . . On Saturday, DKMS, the world's largest bone-marrow donor center, will hold a donor drive in Toyota Plaza hoping to find a match for Jonah Gomez, a 7-year-old Utah boy with blood cancer. Donation centers will be set up in seven MLS cities this weekend.
SHOTS ON GOAL
Upcoming game: Chivas USA (4-6-5, 17 points) at Union (6-4-5, 23 points)
When: Tomorrow, 7:30 p.m.
Where: PPL Park, Chester
TV: The Comcast Network
On the web: Streaming online at MLSSoccer.com
For kicks: Chivas USA comes to PPL Park riding a two-game losing streak, the latest a 2-1 loss to FC Dallas last Saturday. This game could mark the return of forward Alejandro Moreno, though there are conflicting reports about the forward making the trip . . . However, the return of defender Zarek Valentin to the Delaware Valley is imminent. Valentin, a Lancaster native, told cdchivasusa.com that he will have roughly 200 friends and family at PPL Park . . . Been hard for Chivas to lay claim to a consistent run of either wins or losses, but the one constant has been goalkeeper Dan Kennedy. Kennedy has 13 appearance for the Goats this season, boasting a 1.08 goals-against average and four shutouts.
INJURY REPORT (as of Tuesday)
Out for Union: Thorne Holder, GK (illness). Questionable: Gabriel Farfan, MF (right quad strain). Probable: Danny Mwanga, FW (right knee contusion); Amobi Okugo, MF (left ankle sprain).
Doubtful for Chivas USA: Jimmy Conrad, DF (concussion). Probable: Ben Zemanski, MF (left quad strain)
DID YOU KNOW?: Chivas USA's parent club, Mexico's Chivas de Guadalajara, also will play Real Madrid in this summer's World Football Challenge, 3 days before the Union host Chivas the Spanish giant at Lincoln Financial Field. Real is scheduled to play Chivas at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium on July 20. Announced yesterday: Real is bringing their big guns on this tour so expect Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Xabi Alonso (Spain), Kaká (Brazil), Sergio Ramos (Spain) and goalkeeper Iker Casillas (Spain) among the lot of 25 players making the trip.
"I started out as a forward, but I kept getting pushed back, so now I am a [defensive] mid. I am looking to help the team in any way possible, but I'll tell you right now I'm not a very good goalie." - Union midfielder Amobi Okugo on multiple position shifts throughout his young career.