BRIAN SCIARETTA - Tuesday, February 28, 2012
As head coach Jurgen Klinsmann and the US national team prepare to face four-time World Cup champion, midfielder Danny Williams is excited for the challenge.
The German-born Williams, 22, has been a regular with the US team ever since he acquired his American passport last October. When he received his first callup he was very excited and was curious as to what the experience would be like. Almost six months later, he feels fully adjusted into the team.
"Tomorrow will be my fifth game and I really enjoy it," Williams told YA from Genoa. "Italy is one of the best teams in world. In October it was my first time with the US team and I was really excited. The teammates did a good job to make me feel welcome and comfortable. Klinsmann sometimes talks German to me when we're alone, so that makes things easier for me."
Williams is a defensive midfielder by nature but ever since joining with the US team, Klinsmann has elected to play him primarily as a right midfielder.
As a young player when he was developing within the Freiburg system, Williams was taught how to play numerous positions all over the field. In fact, when he made his Bundesliga debut in 2010, he played his first several games at right back and then even played left back.
Williams has primarily played this season in his usual defensive midfield position and that is where he still feels most comfortable. He is, however, adamant that he would gladly play anywhere needed for the US team.
"I wouldn't say it's completely new for me," Williams said of playing right midfield. "I feel most comfortable in the center and that's my position. But I will play were the coach needs to play because I'm proud to play for the US national team.
"I would play goalkeeper if the coach asked me to play there," he added. "I think I've come along [at right midfield] because my education at Freiburg was that I had to play right, left, and in the center."
Williams' versatility is a bonus not just for the US team but perhaps the US U-23 team as well should it qualify for the Olympic Games in the summer.
With the Olympic roster limited to 18 for the whole tournament, players who have the ability to play numerous positions are even more valuable. Williams was even unaware that he was eligible for the tournament but recently he has already talked with Klinsmann about the possibility of playing.
Even though he is age-eligible for the US team, Williams admits that a lot will be dependent on whether his club lets him play. The tournament runs from late July through early August and it would fall in the middle of Hoffenheim's preseason.
Williams does consider his club to be a priority at the moment and doesn't want to jeopardize his status as a regular starter which would also hurt his ability to contribute to the US team.
"I've talked already about it with Klinsmann," Williams said of the Olympics. "He told me that I am eligible by age for the Olympic team. I was excited to hear about that because I didn't know that. Of course I would love to play if the coach at Hoffenheim lets me but it is in the middle of preseason."
One of the reasons why Williams would like to play in the Olympic Games is because he knows that the US team has the ability to be very successful at the tournament this summer in the United Kingdom. Along with Williams, players like Timothy Chandler, Bill Hamid, Jozy Altidore, Brek Shea, Terrence Boyd, Alfredo Morales, Juan Agudelo, and Teal Bunbury are all age eligible for the Olympics but who have also enjoyed recent callups to the senior team as well.
In addition, his Hoffenheim teammate Joe Gyau and three overage players are also allowed on the roster.
"I think we would really have a good Olympic team if everyone plays and if nobody is injured," Williams said. "I'm really excited about it and I would love to play if I have the chance. I hope the coach will let me play but I know that my club is also very important. I have to play there every game to get called up to the national team."
On the club front, things at Hoffenheim appear to be improving for Williams and his teammates. After a rough stretch in the Bundesliga dating back to October, the club earlier this month fired head coach Holger Stanislawski and replaced him on February 10 with former German international Markus Babbel.
Hoffenheim earned draws in their first two games under Babbel but last weekend they put on an inspired effort and defeated Wolfsburg 2-1 on the road. Those three points moved Hoffenheim into ninth place in the Bundesliga.
When Williams returns to Hoffenheim after the US game, he hopes the team can continue to build on that effort which is focused on Babbel's priority towards improving the team's defense.
"I really hope that that was the start for a better a way," Williams stated. "A lot happened and a new coach came in. [Markus Babbel] is nice. I would not say he is totally different in his mentality. But he wants to make sure we are organized in defense and that we make the field tight and small. I think that's the biggest change he has made with the team. Since he's been here, we haven't lost."
Williams and the US national team take on Italy Wednesday in Genoa. After the international break, Williams will return to Hoffenheim who will host 14th place FC Köln on Sunday.