BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, October 3, 2011
As the United States national team assembles this week in Miami ahead of the upcoming friendlies, Hoffenheim midfielder Danny Williams is thrilled to be joining the team for the first time.
For Williams, 22, the past week has indeed been a wild ride. When he received the call from US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann last week, he had to travel to the US consulate in Frankfurt to prove his citizenship and acquire his US passport.
Williams was born in Karlsruhe, Germany and is the son of a German mother and an American father who served in the US military. While being born a US citizen he never went through the process to secure his US passport until this past week when he was invited to play with the US national team.
When Williams was named to the roster it was a career milestone but the ensuing rush to prove his US citizenship and acquire his passport has left him little time to enjoy the achievement of his first international callup.
"The reaction was unbelievable among my family, friends, and my girlfriend who is from Miami," Williams told YA from Germany. "For me it's a dream to play for the United States. I haven't had time to enjoy it because everything has happened so quickly. I will realize it all soon."'
Williams formally acquired his US passport this past Friday after his appointment at the US consulate went smoothly. It was an emotional time for both Williams and his American-born father who also made the trip to Frankfurt to watch his son get the passport.
Williams' father was born in North Carolina but was stationed in Germany when he was in the service. It was there that he met Danny's mother and the two settled in Karlsruhe. When Danny acquired his citizenship, his father was overjoyed at his son's new connection to the United States.
"My father went with me to the embassy this past week and he was so, so proud of me," Williams said of last week's events. "He said he loved it that his son now has an American passport. He is incredibly looking forward to me playing for the US national team. When I was younger I always thought about having two passports but growing up I was so busy with soccer everything got sidetracked and we didn't focus on it. He told me how happy he was that I now had a US passport and that I would play for the country he was born and served."
Williams' connection to the United States has become stronger in recent years but when he was younger his focus was on playing for Germany. As a teenager, he represented at the U-15 levels but never at an older level than that.
As he career progressed and has he had discussions with his father, Williams began to entertain the idea of playing for his father's homeland.
"I was born in Germany and until this past summer, I have never been to the United States," Williams explained. "For 22 years the only thing I knew was Germany. When I was young I was playing for Germany's U15 team, I was focused on playing for Germany. I wasn't that familiar with US Soccer at the time. About three or four years ago, as I was growing up I began to think about playing for the United States but I wasn't in contact."
This past June, Williams decided to use the Bundesliga offseason to visit the United States for the first time in his life. While in Florida he felt very connected to the American culture and way of life. He took in the NBA finals in Miami and it was there he met his current girlfriend.
It was also during this time that he became focused on playing for the United States over Germany.
"This past summer when I went to the States, it became my dream to play for the United States," Williams stated emphatically. "I really felt connected to this country. When I was in Miami, everyone thought I was American because the way I looked and acted. In Germany, the people see me as a foreigner. Everyone knew that one of my parents [came] from another country. But I feel so connected to the United States after being there and I'm honored to play for them."
Williams' dream of playing for the United States became more of a reality in August when after a public contract dispute with his former club SC Freiburg, he transferred to Hoffenheim. While media reports talked about how bitter the dispute was between Williams and Freiburg's management, Williams prefers to look at his former club fondly while also being happy he has moved on.
"I have to say that I had some really nice years at Freiburg," Williams said. "When I was with their youth teams I won some championships. But right now, I am so very happy to be playing at Hoffenheim now. I really can focus on soccer. My head is free again and I really enjoy it."
Klinsmann had been in contact with Williams when he was at Freiburg but once the transfer went through and Williams began to earn playing time at his new club, the new US national team head coach made a visit to Hoffenheim to speak with Williams.
"The first time [Jurgen] called me I was really surprised," Williams recalled. "I was happy but I didn't know about the future when I had this contract dispute with Freiburg. When I got to Hoffenheim, I saw [Jurgen] about one week later and he came to our training. I spoke with him there and he also spoke with my coach. He told me that I have to keep playing and stay in my rhythm. Klinsmann is really a famous person here and I think he's a really good motivator."
Since the transfer in August, Williams had been earning minutes with Hoffenhim but his first start came this past weekend against Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich. Williams played 69 minutes in an impressive 0-0 draw and he earned very positive reviews for his performance
Bayern Munich currently sit in first place in the Bundesliga and after only eight games played, they have a plus 20 goal differential. Despite that, Hoffenheim played well and created numerous chances of their own. Williams was not surprised as he feels his club can compete with the elite clubs in Europe.
"With Bayern Munich, when other teams have played them they have just been focused on defending," Williams said of the game. "But we just played our game. We didn't stay in our half and wait for what Bayern was going to do. We were proactive and not reactive. All the people in Germany can see that we have really high potential for the future."
Hoffenheim is currently sit in eighth place in the Bundesliga but the standings remain tight as they trail second place Werder Bremen by just three points. Last season they finished in 11th place.
Williams is confident that Hoffenhim can push for a spot in Europe this year because the talent on the club is among the best in the Bundesliga. For him, the biggest challenge will be keeping the young players on the team consistently playing at a high level because while they can play even with Bayern Munich, they can also lose to teams with less talent.
"I think the quality of the team is really good," Williams pointed out. "But with the [2-0 loss] against Cologne last week, you can see that when not everyone is at 100 percent, we are going to have problems. It's the Bundesliga and you have to push your limits just to win a game in this league."
"But when I compare us to other teams, we have really good quality and we are young. We've had the taste of success and want to work hard to get back to it. Anything is possible if we play to our capabilities."
Williams move to Hoffenheim is also rewarding personally because the club is moving him back to his natural position in the central midfield. When he was at Freiburg, he was often asked to play all across the backline.
In recent years, Williams earned the reputation as a versatile defensive player but for now he's happy to be back in the midfield where he can either play deep or in an advanced attacking position.
"Freiburg didn't use me as a midfielder," Williams discussed. "I played as a right back, left back, and sometimes in central defense. But for me, the position where I feel I can play the best is the midfield. I don't care if it's defensive midfield or a little of an open position like how I played against Bayern. I feel very comfortable in the center. I like to control the game."
When Williams arrives in Miami this week to play for the US national team, it is unclear where Klinsmann will have him play on a US team deep at central midfield positions.
In fact, Williams is unsure of what to expect but he is well aware of the increasing German presence on the US national team. Along with a new German coach, Williams will be the fifth German-born player called into the US team this year. Other players like Michael Bradley and Steve Cherundolo have significant experience in the Bundesliga.
Williams is excited to be part of the growing German influence which he believes will help US team and he is excited to get to know his new teammates as they prepare for World Cup qualifying beginning next year.
"First of all, I think it's a compliment for the Bundesliga which is one of the three best leagues in the world," Williams concluded. "It's a pleasure for me that so many German-born players are on the US team. It will also make things easier for me to make my way onto the team because so many others will speak German. I can speak English but it's not perfect yet."
"I have to say that the only two players I know personally are Fabian Johnson and Timothy Chandler. I watched Tim Howard when he was at Manchester United and Jozy Altidore when he was at Hull City. Of course I've also watched Jermaine Jones and Steve Cherundolo play in the Bundesliga. But in the past month and years I've been trying to get a lot of news about the US team."
Williams and the US national team will take on Honduras on Saturday, October 8 in Miami before heading north to New Jersey for a game against Ecuador on October 11.