Williams: An Unlikely Hero for Fury FC

Photo by Carlos Verde

The red-clad figure of Ryan Williams steps to the TD Place penalty spot in the 57th minute for Ottawa Fury FC.

The home side are trailing Major League Soccer-superpower Toronto FC one-nil on home turf in the Canadian cup semi-final.

As Williams, Fury’s 26-year-old English midfielder, stares down TFC goalkeeper Clint Irwin, he’s singularly focused on sliding home his penalty to bring the Fury — massive underdogs in the matchup as a mid-table team in the second-division United Soccer League — level.

Too small, they’d said of Williams when he dropped down to the semi-professional ranks of the game in England and later Wales. Too weak. Not physical enough.

Those thoughts and memories are far from his mind as he expertly drills his penalty into the bottom-right corner of the TFC net, sending the 7,611 in attendance into a frenzy as the potential for a hometown upset gathers steam.

He’s defied the odds to be here, on such a pitch and a city this many miles from his hometown of Wirral, England.

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“It’s all about the opportunity,” says Williams some two weeks later. “The MLS is a fantastic league now, and a lot of players see (USL) as a stepping stone into MLS.”

It’s a sweltering Tuesday afternoon, and the affable Englishman is wrapping up a promotional video shoot.

His smile comes easily; he’s enjoying a strong sophomore campaign with Fury FC, soaking in the experience of living abroad, and standing out in a league just one rung below the rising heights of MLS.

“There’s an atmosphere in this league where everyone is hungry, there’s a lot of passion and fight,” says Williams. “The statistics speak for themselves — if you’re performing here, there are opportunities to move up.”

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And perform Williams has in the first two-plus months of the 2017 campaign.

His set-piece exploits, whether individual moments of magic on free-kick finishes or beautiful balls to set up teammates, have become something of a burgeoning legend around the league.

“He’s incredible from set pieces and great in the clutch,” explains Fury FC captain Lance Rozeboom. “He can serve in a great ball and really find guys with pinpoint accuracy — he’s vital to our team’s success.”

Williams has become something of a fan favourite due to a combination of his set-piece prowess and friendly grin.

“He’s a very stand-up guy, always willing to chat, and he brings a lot of off-field positives to the club,” says Fury FC broadcaster Tyler McDonald. “You can’t say anything better about the man, he’s a true model footballer on and off the pitch.”

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Given the Englishman’s success in 2017 with Fury FC, it’s difficult to fathom his unemployment at this time last year.

Following the expiration of his contract with Scottish Premier League outfit Inverness in May 2016, he had explored options and appeared to set to sign for a team in Portugal’s top league. But, as is the case in professional sports, nothing is a given.

“I was due to sign for a team in Portugal, but the president ended up signing two guys on loan from (Portuguese powerhouse) FC Porto,” chuckles Williams in retrospect. “Given the financial resources of Porto, they could give the players to this team for free — it was a wages thing, not a problem.”

A few days later, he received a long-distance call from Canada: Fury FC manager Paul Dalglish was on the line, and had his heart set on Williams joining his second-division side on this side of the Atlantic.

“When somebody calls you and tells you about their vision for the team — their project — and where they see you fitting into it, it means a lot,” says Williams. “I felt like this was a place where I wanted to be playing my soccer.”

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Fast forward one year, and he’s loving life in the capital.

“It’s a phenomenal club, we’ve everything here at our disposal to be the best we can be,” says Williams. “Once I got to know the city and meet people, I was really (surprised) by just how beautiful it is. Ottawa’s a special city.”

How long he stays in Fury FC colours remains to be seen — the MLS is a short step away, as are a plethora of opportunities back in the United Kingdom.

But for the time being, he’s just enjoying being a professional soccer player in the national capital, and thrilling local fans with his set-piece exploits along the way.