The Columbus Crew finished the team’s preseason and the Carolina Challenge Cup on Friday. Prior to its conclusion, head coach Caleb Porter saw the final match of the tournament as a way to get players prepared for the Major League Soccer regular season. That meant playing a strong starting 11 and giving players as close to 90 minutes as their fitness allowed in order to simulate a league match.
In the 3-0 victory against the Charleston Battery, things looked good for Columbus going into the last 20 minutes of the match. Unfortunately, that’s when center back Josh Williams went to the ground, requiring medical attention. Williams spent much of the game paying attention to his hamstring but seemed like something finally went in that area.
Now we know that Williams sustained a hamstring injury that has the potential to leave him out for Saturday’s season-opening match against the Vancouver Whitecaps.
“We’re just being smart and careful with him, working him back in,” said Porter. “We don’t think it’s too serious.”
Porter is being cautious with the veteran defender, sharing in media availability that the Crew will know more by the end of the week. A positive is that Porter hasn’t ruled Williams out completely.
During the first half of the match, Williams appeared to favor the area of injury, but continued to move well on the field and was kept on after halftime. New center back Milos Degenek took Williams’ place in the 70th minute.
Going into 2022, Columbus didn’t retain the rights, or traded away, all but two center backs. Williams and Jonathan Mensah have been the most consistent central defender for the Crew over the past three seasons. Initially, Williams was a depth piece for the defense and a leader on and off the field, but injuries thrust the center back into a starting role.
In 2020, Williams was instrumental in the Black & Gold’s MLS Cup-winning season. With then new signing Vito Wormgoor going down with an ankle injury in the MLS is Back Tournament and young defender Aboubacar Keita struggling to find a starting form, Williams and Mensah led the backline.
Williams played every minute of the Crew’s playoff run. Included in that form was the 3-0 victory against the Seattle Sounders in the MLS Cup Final, with the Columbus defense only giving up two goals in four postseason matches.
Last season, Williams was part of a makeshift Columbus defense that saw five different players take up a center back role, including midfielder loanee Liam Fraser. Injuries hit Williams in 2021 too, causing the defender to start just 14 matches and appear in 18 overall. Towards the end of the season though, Williams regained his health and form and played alongside Mensah in the team’s push to make the playoffs, a push that fell one point short.
Williams is entering his ninth season with the Black & Gold and 11th MLS season overall. The Copley, Ohio native is not only a strong defender and leader but is adored by the Crew supporters.
If Williams’ injury keeps him out, it’s likely that Degenek, who was acquired this offseason, will slide into the starting role. The Australian international, and former member of Serbia’s Red Star Belgrade, is the most match fit. Degenek joined the Crew directly after playing part of the 2021-22 season in Europe and coming off international duty.