Ken­tucky stand­out Wil­liams se­lected No. 18 over­all by Crew in MLS Su­perDraft

Lexington Herald-Leader - - Sports - BY JARED PECK [email protected]­ald-leader.com

JJ Wil­liams, the Univer­sity of Ken­tucky soc­cer stand­out whose break­out ju­nior sea­son helped pro­pel the Cats to their deep­est post­sea­son run in pro­gram his­tory in 2018, was se­lected in the first round, 18th over­all by the Colum­bus Crew, dur­ing the Ma­jor League Soc­cer Su­perDraft on Fri­day.

“I re­ally can’t ex­plain what it’s like be­ing up here, hav­ing my dreams come true,” Wil­liams said on the Su­perDraft podium af­ter his name was an­nounced. “To all the young kids out there, to all of those who just see a big kid from Alabama, never set­tle for any­thing less than your dreams . ...

“I’m ex­tremely thank­ful to the Colum­bus Crew. I prom­ise you won’t re­gret this. Thank you and let’s get to work.”

In the in­stant anal­y­sis of the pick on MLS.com, Tay­lor Twell­man, an ESPN com­men­ta­tor and for­mer U.S. in­ter­na­tional player, likened Wil­liams to Crew for­ward Gyasi Zardes, the team’s lead­ing scorer.

“Tell me who this sounds like, ‘he has soc­cer in him, but he’s very raw ... it’s Gyasi Zardes,” Twell­man said. “Lit­er­ally, you just got the un­der­study to Gyasi Zardes.”

Wil­liams, a 6-foot-4 for­ward from Mont­gomery, Ala., scored 18 goals, third most in the na­tion, in­clud­ing nine game-win­ners for UK, who earned a No. 3 over­all seed in the 2018 NCAA Tour­na­ment, its high­est seed ever. Ken­tucky reached the Elite Eight where it lost to even­tual na­tional

cham­pion Mary­land, 1-0, in front of more than 3,000 fans at UK’s home sta­dium, The Bell.

Wil­liams also ranked third in the na­tion in points (a mea­sure of goals plus as­sists) with 44 and was one of three fi­nal­ist for col­lege soc­cer’s top award, the Mis­souri Ath­letic Club Her­mann Tro­phy.

Ear­lier this month, Wil­liams an­nounced he would forgo his se­nior sea­son in a video posted on his Twit­ter ac­count.

“From the be­gin­ning of my col­lege ca­reer to now, Big Blue Na­tion has been noth­ing but a huge bless­ing to me as a stu­dent, player and per­son,” Wil­liams said in the video. “My next goal is to pur­sue a pro­fes­sional soc­cer ca­reer. I am hon­ored to en­ter the 2019 MLS Su­perDraft. I could not have achieved this ac­com­plish­ment with­out the help of Big Blue Na­tion.”

Ahead of the MLS Com­bine in Or­lando, Fla., this week, Wil­liams was among seven un­der­class­men to sign a cov­eted Gen­er­a­tion Adi­das con­tract with the league. Gen­er­a­tion Adi­das play­ers do not count against a team’s salary cap when drafted, thus eas­ing some of the pres­sure on de­vel­op­ing them into im­me­di­ate con­trib­u­tors to the team.

Wil­liams is the sec­ond player in UK his­tory to be drafted by the MLS. Mid­fielder Napo Mat­soso was se­lected in the sec­ond round (31st over­all) by the New Eng­land Rev­o­lu­tion in 2017. Mat­soso has been on Louisville City’s ros­ter since Septem­ber. Louisville City is the two-time de­fend­ing cham­pion of the USL, Amer­i­can soc­cer’s sec­ond di­vi­sion below the MLS.

The Crew, ru­mored over the last cou­ple of years as a team that might move to Austin, Texas, will re­main in Colum­bus af­ter a deal was struck late last year to sell the team to Cleve­land Browns own­ers Jimmy and Dee Haslam. Colum­bus is one of the found­ing mem­bers of MLS. It won the MLS Cup in 2008.

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