Entering the 2019 MLS SuperDraft, former Kentucky forward JJ Williams has been touted as one of the top forwards in the draft class. His 18 goals, nine game-winners, and eight assists in 22 games helped him become a MAC Hermann Trophy finalist. He was at the trophy presentation over the weekend so Wednesday was his first time playing at the MLS Player Combine.
“I thought it was pretty good,” Williams said of his performance at Orlando City Stadium on Wednesday. “I thought the effort was much better from the team on what I saw from the first game. I think I was pretty poor. I think there were some good ideas, I think the team played pretty well overall. The fight was there, the ideas were there, I just have to step up and play a little better individually.”
Williams did not score a goal, but he had a few chances. In the 36th minute, he made an excellent defensive stop, stealing the ball from a center back. He was then one-on-one with the ‘keeper, but his shot went wide of the post. Moments before halftime, the Montgomery, AL, native’s powerful header was denied on a brilliant one-handed save from former Marquette University goalkeeper Luis Barraza.
His play today certainly didn’t live up to his college play where Williams was the third-highest goal scorer in the nation. The Generation Adidas signee will undoubtedly be one of the top players drafted on Friday.
“I’m pretty excited [about the draft],” said Williamis. “How can you not be excited going into this new experience? I’m thankful for the opportunity, I’m blessed to be here. [After being drafted] I’ll be ready to get to work and really bring something to my new team. That’s all you can really do.”
Williams, who turned 21 just six days ago, did not pick up soccer until later in his life. When he was about 10 was the first time that the forward played the sport. Since then, he’s been the 2016 Alabama High School Player of the Year, a 2018 MAC Hermann Trophy finalist, and has broken multiple records at the University of Kentucky.
“I just fell in love with [soccer],” said Williams. “I fell in love going to work, doing all the extra things, doing all the little things that no one else would do. I thought that was a big part about it. I had a lot of amazing people around me that would do what I needed to put me into a spot to be successful, make myself better, and continue to give me an opportunity.
“I wasn’t able to play competitively at home, so I had to go to Vestavia to play — an hour and a half away. So, it’s one of those things where I’m really blessed to have the opportunity, and I made the most of it.”
At 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds, Williams definitely has the physical attributes to be a force in MLS from day one. While his Combine performance was not one to remember, his success at Kentucky speaks volumes. He scored 24 goals and provided 15 assists in 57 games (30 starts).
With the third pick in the draft, Orlando City has a good chance of being able to select Williams. Should he still be available, he would give Head Coach James O’Connor some of the attacking depth that he was missing last season, with Dom Dwyer, Stefano Pinho, and Benji Michel as the other strikers on the roster. Also, as a Generation Adidas player, Williams will not count against the salary cap.
For Williams, the most important thing on Friday is to be drafted by a team that will give him an opportunity and help him “make that next jump.” Williams looks to have the potential to be an MLS starter but will some need time to develop. He could come off the bench, play in the U.S. Open Cup matches, and in multi-game weeks. His impact could be similar to Chris Mueller’s last season.