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SuperDraft pick JJ Williams to provide an alternative to Crew’s offense

The powerful striker should provide a different attacking option for head coach Caleb Porter.

MLS: SuperDraft Nuccio DiNuzzo-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Crew SC entered Friday’s Major League SuperDraft room in Chicago with three roster needs to address and it took care of one of them by selecting University of Kentucky’s forward JJ Williams with the 18th pick.

Even though SuperDraft selections have had limited impact on MLS rosters in recent years, the Crew found in Williams an intriguing prospect to fill a roster spot at center forward behind the team’s top goal scorer in 2018, Gyasi Zardes, and backup Patrick Mullins.

At 6-foot-4 and weighing 200 pounds, Williams will provide a massive presence up front, especially when compared to the 6-foot-1 Zardes and Mullins.

“He’s a big boy,” head coach Caleb Porter said about Williams. “We saw him on the clips and we scouted him extensively. We didn’t expect a GA (Generation Adidas) striker that scored 18 goals to be around at that pick. We were certainly pleased that he was.”

“And he fits a need. We targeted a couple of positions where we needed some depth and we liked his profile. We don’t have a target striker, a guy that can play with his back to goal and get on the end of stuff. He’s a beast in the air, he’s young and he doesn’t count on the roster (salary cap). So it’s a great pick for us.”

The new Black & Gold forward joins the club after an extremely successful departing college season, in which he scored 18 goals, an all-time season record for the Wildcats, and recorded eight assists in just 22 starts, a performance that made of him a MAC Hermann Trophy Semifinalist.

His successful college career, which earned him five different awards (United Soccer Coaches First Team All-American, USC First Team All-Southeast Region, C-USA Player of the Year, C-USA Offensive Most Valuable Player and C-USA Tournament MVP), makes Crew’s president Tim Bezbatchenko be optimistic about how his game will translate to the professional level.

“If you’ve seen him, he’s massive,” Bezbatchenko added. “And he can score goals. He can bang in goals. At Kentucky, he proved that he can score. Eighteen goals, which is an impressive thing to do in a season that’s limited and short. Obviously Zardes is gone for part of preseason and then potentially during the summer, so we need a little bit more depth up top. There’s still a gap between the college and the pro game. But I think he can do that and if he does then he can make an impact and that’s a good thing for us.”

Another factor that impressed the Crew’s technical staff about Williams was his attitude. The forward, who celebrated at the stage when he was selected by the club and took some time to greet the supporters that made the trip to Chicago, seems to have his mind at just the right place according to Bezbatchenko.

“The kid just has a great attitude and he’s ready to compete,” the executive stated. “You heard him speak at the draft, he’s really pumped to join us in Columbus. So we just feel like he can, if he can get over that gap.”

To Williams, the opportunity of joining MLS’s oldest franchise is unique. Moving nearly 200 miles north from Kentucky, the 21-year-old forward is willing to do whatever is needed to help the team and secure some playing time under Porter.

“I’m really thankful for the opportunity,” the striker remarked. “I’m really blessed to be a part of Columbus Crew, coming in and really making something special. I think that we can do something really special in Columbus. I’m really ready to get to work and there’s so much to be excited for.

“Hopefully I can bring a lot of goals. I can bring, not even goals. Hopefully I can just bring something that impacts the team, something that makes a difference, that gives us the best opportunity as a team to win. That’s the main thing I’m worried about. Making sure the club does well, making sure the team does well, making sure my teammates do well. Because that’s really what matters to me.”