Columbus Crew SC defender Josh Williams is trying to prove that the old adage “you can’t go home again” isn’t necessarily true. The fan-favorite is settling back into life in Columbus after spells in New York City and Toronto, and so far, he’s enjoying it.
“It’s been good,” Williams told Massive Report of his departure from the Black & Gold.. “I always thought I’d be a lifer here, but that’s the way of the league. New teams come in, get picks, and you’re a professional, so you move on.”
In Canada, the defender found more consistent playing time, seeing action in 27 matches in a year and a half and playing in last season’s MLS Cup Final.
Despite not wanting to leave Columbus, he now reflects that it was a good experience for him.
“I got to go, see the country, live in another country, and have some success elsewhere,” he said. “It was good.”
Although he always knew he wanted to return to his home state and Crew SC, Williams handled his time away like a professional. But that didn’t mean the Black & Gold left his thoughts.
“I kept in touch with some of the guys, with Gregg,” Williams said. “I let them know that I was enjoying the way they played, that I was watching. I really love the style here, playing out of the back. That style was a big reason I wanted to come back.”
A versatile player, Williams is at his best playing center back, though he has filled in at both left and right fullback in his career. After being selected by Columbus in Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft last offseason, the chance to return to the Berhalter system was too alluring to pass up and Williams signed on the dotted line.
“I love the patient, possession based style. It really fits how I like to play,” he said. “I think if you asked around the league, ‘Who plays the most attractive soccer,’ I think a lot of players around the league would say it’s (Crew SC).”
That natural inclination to play “the Berhalter way” has aided his transition back to Black & Gold, as has a familiarity with the system from his first stint.
“(The system is) definitely familiar.” He said. “The guys who have been here a while have definitely mastered it, that’s the big difference. Everyone’s much more comfortable out there.”
There is one major difference from his first stint in black and gold, however. Once the young up and comer, Williams returns as the veteran presence to a back line that lacks much MLS experience.
“Obviously. no one likes getting older, but I always loved that older guys like Danny (O’Rourke) or Chad (Marshall) would take the time to mentor younger players,” he recalled. “It was something they didn’t have to do, but it really helped during rough stretches, when I was maybe lacking confidence.
“So I’m glad that’s something I can pass on to an Alex (Crognale) or a Lalas (Abubakar) or other young guys. You know, teaching them the ins and outs of the game, how to be a positive presence in the locker room, helping show them how to be professional.”
As far as where he fits in on the field, Williams says that he prepares the same way week in and week out, even with the emergence of Homegrown Alex Crognale as the preferred backup to Jonathan Mensah.
“I just prepare like I’m the starter,” he said. “If Coach calls my name, great, if not, I’ll be ready. It’s just about being ready at all times. It’s a crazy league, stuff happens every week, so I just have to stay ready. At the end of the day it’s about the team, so if he doesn’t call my number, I just want to be that positive presence.”
After five years with Crew SC, Williams had to move around MLS, which helped him mature as both a player and a person.
Above all, Williams is enjoying his return to Columbus, and the way the season is starting.
“It’s a fun group, a fun group of guys to be around and play with,” he said. “Things are going well, and the ceiling is very high for this team. We could do big things.”