Eryk Williamson is USMNT’s late bloomer, making up for lost time

Patience is a quality that can both help and hinder a player. Careers are short, so it pays to keep pushing for more minutes and more responsibility. Standstill can stalk a career. But there are moments when it helps to wait for the time, to lay a foundation for work and to compensate for weaknesses in the game, which can later lead to success.

Throughout his career Eryk Williamson had to navigate through this duality even though if you watched him now you would never know. With the Portland Timbers, Williamson has become a mainstay in midfield and provides a valuable link between vonminded’s defensive skills Diego Chara and the more dynamic game of Diego Valeri.

The 24-year-old now has that on his first forays into the US men’s national team. Williamson made his international debut last Sunday and helped the US graduate a 1-0 win over Haiti in the gold cup. This was followed by his first start in a 6-1 win against Martinique, shows up well in midfield and adds a template Miles Robinson‘s goal.

But Williamson was far from an overnight success. Along the way, he has learned that there are no short cuts even when he strives for more, and that means there are moments when he has to wait and see.

“I think we are often caught up in the bigger picture, especially as athletes. ‘I want to be where” Tyler Adams is. I want it to be tomorrow ”. But there are so many steps, ”he told ESPN. “You talk to the Tylers, you talk to the boys and it wasn’t one day that you flick a switch. It scratches it every day and I think that’s the mentality we have here [with the U.S.]. One day at a time, making sure I can put myself in the best position. “

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Williamson claims he grew up pretty relaxed. It wasn’t until he got older that he seemed to be in a hurry. But his mother, Nicole Brisco, who raised Eryk and his three siblings alone, doesn’t buy it.

“Eryk was very impatient. He always wanted something to happen right away, ”she told ESPN. “I noticed it when he tried for the first year [the Olympic Development Program], and he didn’t make it into the national pool, he wanted to give up football. It just tore him apart. And I just said, ‘You have to be patient.’ “

She adds with a laugh, “I think he finally got there. But that was the toughest trip home from Pennsylvania I’ve ever had to make in my life. I don’t know who cried more.

Williamson actually got there, although there were some dead ends that he went down. The Alexandria, Virginia native stood out in the talented area of ​​the DMV. His time at the D.C. United Academy, as a youth international and at the University of Maryland had him tied for big things. This was a player who could do everything in midfield, be it carrying the ball into attack, preparing scoring opportunities or defending, which gave him a distinctive profile among American midfielders.

Then his career hit a wall. A trade for his homegrown rights from D.C. United to Portland in 2018 should offer an opportunity for the next step in his career. Instead, Williamson found himself with the Portland reserve team. A loan period in the same year with Santa Clara in the Portugal hoped to provide some extra playing time but resulted in him barely playing a minute in six months. After his return to Portland, his prospects did not improve too much. While he was given a few first-team minutes, he largely stayed out of payroll.

According to Portland manager Giovanni Savarese, he saw Williamson as a player who wasn’t doing everything he could.

“I think when you’re that talented, things are so simple and you can get by with the bare minimum,” Savarese told ESPN of Williamson. “You’re still very good, but I don’t want the minimum of you. I want the best of you.”

During this time, patience actually proved a virtue for Williamson, forcing a review of his attitude towards his career. Instead of focusing on the bigger picture of what he didn’t have or why he wasn’t on the line-up, he put his energy into the small steps it took to improve his game.

“To me, [Portugal] was an eye opener, “he said.” I think when I got back from there it was, ‘This is what I have to do every day.’ I have a routine of: Can I be the best player on the field? Can I set a goal for Gio to come up to me and say, ‘Yes, you are the best player in training this week, this month?’ I took that into 2020. “

A motivational mosaic was created. Williamson went down too Costa Rica Determined for the 2020 preseason to leave Savarese no choice but to include him in the line-up. He studied more film and took advice from people like a longtime friend Jeremy Ebobisse and Chara. He was beginning to feel more trust from Savarese too. The goals were then expanded, from being the best in practice, to getting started in games, to influencing games, to achieving excellence.

Then the pandemic struck and the league closed.

“I started the year so well and then I thought all the preseason, all the work, the video, all the little tech things that I was working on were all going to waste,” he said.

Another emotional hit came when his grandmother Aileen Ford died in April. The two were close, with Ford being among Williamson’s supporters during troubled times.

“They had such a great relationship,” Brisco said of her son and mother. “Eryk doesn’t talk about a lot of things like that. But I really think that last year really spurred him on, and he really, really rose.”

Savarese isn’t sure what has changed, but when Williamson returned for the MLS Is Back tournament (which the Timbers won) he looked like a different player.

“I think something clicked right in the pandemic,” said Savarese. “It’s like something he understood. ‘This is what I miss. This is what I have to do.’ When he came back from the pandemic, I thought, ‘Wow, he got it.’ “

Williamson was soon marginally irreplaceable, but that was far from the end of his arduous journey. Called to January camp, an ankle injury slowed his progress. US coach Gregg Berhalter cited this as an important reason why US U23 manager Jason Kreis Williamson left the roster for the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament. It was a move that raised eyebrows from the moment it was announced, and given the way the team fatigued in attack, the opinion hasn’t changed that Williamson would have helped a team that ultimately failed to qualify for Tokyo.

But Savarese’s observation that Williamson made things look so simple is illuminating, almost like building trust over time that he was giving his all, as well as an understanding of which buttons to push and when.

“I think you have to get to know that [Williamson] because he’s a very smart boy, very smart, “said Savarese.” You have to make sure you have a good conversation so he can understand what is being asked of him. You have to build a relationship, you have to understand what he’s capable of, you have to understand the moments to push him a little more. “

By then, Williamson had learned to deal with and break away from the snub. The style that Kreis’s team played is similar to that of Berhalter and complemented his January experience. That made the entry into this camp smoother.

“Just think about what I’m being asked and what I have to do to be on a team knowing that there are so many different ways to play in this midfield,” said Williamson. “And there are so many competitive players that I compete against. So there is just a lot asked and what I do in Portland and what I do in Portland are translated into performances with a national team.”

Now Williamson has found some balance in his career. He’s still ambitious but knows how to focus on the present. Do you regret that this realization did not come sooner? Williamson muses that if he had, he might have broken through at a young age, but also notes, “Maybe I had to shape myself to be a professional.”

The reality for some players is that the light of the little things never comes on. For Williamson, it now lights the way to a better future.

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