Major League Soccer continues to showcase talent, after Tristan Blackmon, Eduard Atuesta and Latif Blessing, a new talent shines in MLS: Eryk Williamson.
Eryk Williamson is a 23-year-old midfield player, he joined Portland Timbers in 2018, played two seasons with Portland Timbers second team and was among the best players in the side. This made coach Giovanni Savarese promote him to the first team and became one of the most important players in Portland Timbers.
Williamson has many characteristics, including, but not limited to, speed, skill, physical strength, all of which made him important to his team’s playing style, as these characteristics made his coaches place him in several positions even in the attack.
The most important thing that Williamson has, and which most Portland Timbers midfielders miss, is dribbling.
Williamson makes 4.82 dribbles per match with a success rate of 50.2%. This number is not great, but we must know that he plays in the middle of the pitch, meaning most of the time he is in crowded areas.
I tried to compare his dribbles rate with his progressive runs average and found that he makes 2.27 progressive runs per game, and is ranked 22nd in the MLS. This indicates that he has a direct style of play, and his dribbles help his team in the offensive phase.
Frankly, those numbers are good for a young player, who is participating for the first time in a tough competitive league.
His dribbling ability helps his team and makes him fit the style of play of coach Savarese. As you can see on this map, Williamson makes a significant number of dribbles in his team’s half and the opponent’s half.
These dribbles give the Portland Timbers team more significant control over the ball and the ability to break the opponents ‘pressure, and at the same time, they are a useful tool to break the opponents’ defences and create a gap in their structure.
For example, in this picture, Real Salt Lake applied high pressure on Portland Timbers, and all passing channels near Williamson are closed. Here, his dribbling and agility saved him, and he was able to move the ball into the empty space.
In this picture, Williamson moves into an area in the box, after which he used his excellent control of the ball and his agility to bypass two opponents and penetrate the opponent’s box.
His physical strength is also important, and he uses it extensively to maintain possession and cover the ball. For example, in this picture, he has placed his body between the defender and the ball, now the opponent’s player is forced to commit a foul to prevent him from continuing his attack.
Portland Timbers are a team that relies a lot on counterattacks, as their coach Savarese prefers to stay behind and wait for an error from the opponent. Then take a quick counterattack.
However, the problem is that the team does not have fast players such as Adama Traoré in the Premier League or Rafael Leão in Serie A, who can attack the empty spaces left by the opponent. Here Williamson’s technical abilities and physical strength become an essential solution.
For example, in this picture, there is no player positioned in such a way that the counterattack continues, so Williamson chose to rely on his technical capabilities and speed to dribble the opponent and attack the empty space.
These abilities made Williamson a critical player even in positional attacks, as his coach devised a special tactic to take advantage of his technical abilities.
Often the coach Savarese asks the winger to pull back in order to drag the opponent full-back, in this way he will create space for Williamson on the sides and put him in the 1v1 situation with the opponent’s centre back.
Williamson enters 6.55 defensive struggles in every match with a success rate of 56%. Of course, this number is not great, but Portland Timbers defensive style affected him a lot.
Savarese always tries to protect the deep and direct his opponent to the sides, then presses him aggressively to retrieve the ball.
However, this does not mean that Williamson does not have any defensive roles. On the contrary, he is making many efforts at this phase because it is always required to position correctly to block the passing channels and to break the numerical superiority created by the opponent.
Williamson performs these tasks beautifully, as he performs 4.29 interceptions per match, and retrieves a large number of balls thanks to his excellent positioning as shown on this map.
This picture shows the player’s intelligence and good handling of difficult situations. As you can see, Los Angeles had created numerical superiority and wants to move the ball to depth. Here, Williamson acted cleverly, pressed on Blessing from behind, in which case the ball holder is forced to pass to the centre of the field. Williamson realised it and moved quickly to intercept the ball. He managed to break the numerical advantage created by the opponent’s team and recovered the ball.
This is a somewhat similar example, where the Los Angeles midfielder pulled back and created a 3v2 situation on Portland Timbers first pressure line. Williamson acted smartly here; he did not move directly so as not to leave an empty space in-depth, he waited for the ball to reach José Cifuentes, then moved quickly and pressed him from the back. In this way, he was able to break the build-up of the opponent’s team.
While Williamson is good at the defensive duel, you will not see him in many 1v1 situations, but his physical strength and speed make him able to beat the attackers.
In this picture, Williamson closed the deep and forced the striker to head towards the side, then used his speed and physical strength to catch up with the ball and place his body between the ball and the striker, and was able to recover posession.
Positioning is one of the essential characteristics of Williamson. He always tries to help his team in the offensive phase through his smart moves and positioning, which helps his team to continue his attacks.
As shown in the heat map, Williamson covers almost the entire field, which is essential for a team that relies too much on counterattacks.
As I mentioned above, the Portland Timbers relies heavily on counter-attacks, which means that quickly positioning in empty spaces is extremely important. Herein lies the role of Williamson, the player is very smart in positioning and always gives solutions to his teammates.
Here, Williamson uses his speed to reach the empty space, and the Timbers can eliminate six players from the opponent’s team with just one pass.
In this picture, he noticed that the full-back was advancing the opponent towards the side to press the ball carrier, and Williamson quickly moved in the half-space and was able to penetrate the box.
His technical capabilities and physical strength, in addition to his excellent positioning, make Williamson one of the team’s most essential players in the offensive phase, even though he is a defensive midfielder.
The wonderful thing is that Williamson does not have many weaknesses, although as it is his first season with the first team, and they may not be apparent just yet.
I mentioned above that the player is good at offensive transition, but on the other hand, he lags in defensive transition. So he should be more active to help his team break the opponent’s counter-attacks.
I also mentioned that he is a good dribbler, but he sometimes dribbles too much and this disrupts the attack or gives the opponents an opportunity to make a tactical foul against him.