With the 18th pick in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, Columbus Crew SC selected JJ Williams, a forward out of Kentucky. This is the first official roster move under the Crew’s new ownership group of Pete Edwards and Jimmy and Dee Haslam and under new leadership of president Tim Bezbatchenko and head coach Caleb Porter.
Williams was a three-year player with the Wildcats, before electing to leave and sign with Major League Soccer. Williams is also a Generation Adidas player, meaning his salary will not count against the Black & Gold’s cap.
The 6-foot-4, 200-pound Williams came to Kentucky out of Montgomery, Alabama. As a freshman, Williams played in 18 games, starting seven, and registering 767 total minutes. That year, the forward scored three goals, including one in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and managed three assists.
As a sophomore in 2017, Williams played in 17 games, starting one, and tied for the team lead with three goals. Williams also added four assists. Following the season, Williams was named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll.
In his final year in Lexington, Williams really exploded onto the scene. The forward finished third in the country with 18 goals, including nine game winners helping Kentucky to an Elite Eight appearance, the best in program history. He also added eight assists, totaling 44 points, which ranked third nationally. Following the year, Williams was named first-team All-American, Conference USA Player of the Year and was a MAC Hermann Award finalist.
While many believed the Crew would look to address a lack of depth at the fullback position in the SuperDraft, Bezbatchenko and Porter elected to go in another direction. Columbus currently has starting striker Gyasi Zardes returning following a career-best 19-goal season in his first year with the Black & Gold. The Crew traded for forward Patrick Mullins last July. In 10 games with the club, two starts, in 2018, Mullins recorded one goal and one assist.
With his size and strength, Williams is a talented hold-up forward. He could be viewed similar to a much younger and less experienced version of Fanendo Adi, who was rather successful under Porter during his time with the Portland Timbers.
Williams will likely be a bit of a project for Columbus moving forward. While he flashed his potential during his junior year at Kentucky, he will have to develop his game at the MLS level. Given the depth of the position, for the Black & Gold, Williams should get the time needed to become a successful professional.
Unless the Crew make a trade, this will be the final pick of the day for Columbus, as the Black & Gold currently do not have a second-round SuperDraft pick. The Crew do have the 18th pick in the third round and 18th and 19th picks in the fourth round. Those final two rounds of the SuperDraft will be held via a conference call on Monday, Jan. 14 at 1 p.m. ET.
Massive Report will have more information on Williams and the future Crew draft picks, so stay tuned.