Sandy • The temperature rises on a sweltering midsummer day at America First Field in Sandy and there is Andy Williams, pointing out passing angles in a windbreaker and a Real Salt Lake cap. The windbreaker has a single star above the club’s crest over Williams’ heart, a signifier of his playing days with RSL, of the dreadful seasons laboring on the steaming turf at Rice-Eccles Stadium to the MLS Cup crown hoisted five seasons ago.
For 90 minutes, the club runs through drills and small scrimmages as Williams holds a soccer ball under each arm, teaching his midfielders situational ideas. At 10:30 a.m., the temperature is well into the 80s, but Williams pushes on. It’s his staple. Consider Andy Williams forever sleeved.
Impact at RSL
O At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Kickoff » Thursday, 8 p.m.
TV » CW30.
Radio » 700 AM
Records » RSL 7-4-8; Montreal 3-10-5
Last meeting » Montreal 3, RSL 2 (May 11, 2013)
About RSL » Club enters the middle match of its three-game home stand in third place in the Western Conference as FC Dallas jumped RSL for second place behind Seattle. … RSL has gone 1-4-2 in its last seven league matches after starting 6-0-6. … Forward Joao Plata leads the club with eight goals scored in 2014, with injured forward Alvaro Saborio still second with six. … Goalkeeper Nick Rimando remains one regular-season shutout away from tying retired goalkeeper Kevin Hartman’s all-time regular-season shutout record at 112. … Rimando’s last shutout came in the club’s 1-0 win over Portland at home on April 19. … RSL has had 13 penalty kick calls — for or against — in its first 19 matches.
About Montreal » The Impact enter Thursday night’s match the worst team in MLS with 14 points in 18 games. … Midseason acquisition Jack McInerney leads the club with six goals, while star Marco Di Vaio is second with four. … Dynamic midfielder Justin Mapp leads the club with seven assists in 2014.
Long before he was scouring talent as a scout for RSL or transitioning to being a first-year assistant coach, he was the guy in a long-sleeved jersey on muggy nights in Houston or Dallas or during CONCACAF Champions League somewhere in Central America.
His duties have changed, but he hasn’t. The days of lacing up the boots are done — Williams retired in 2011 after seven seasons with RSL — although he does occasionally jump into training sessions. He’s a coach now, a development that hasn’t surprised.
"You could always see it as a player that he’d be involved with the club at some capacity," said defender Nat Borchers, who played with Williams for four seasons. "Seeing him still in the Claret-and-Cobalt is natural, I think."
Unnatural to the easy-going 36-year-old — who was born in Canada and is a former a midfielder for Jamaica — is the stress accompanying the new gig. Possibly the most intriguing adjustment for Williams has been the quick shifts in preparation.
"Once you’re done with one game, you’re already looking at the next team, working on practices for the next week, so even though I was a part of it during the [training] sessions last year, now it’s a different ball game," he said.
What about trying to help manage the mood of a locker room during a tough stretch?
"When you come up short, it sucks and you know you have to do something better and go back and rack your brain for answers," Williams said. "Even when you do win, you have 20 or 30 minutes to enjoy it because there’s next week."
Aside from his deep familiarity with the club and the diamond formation that he starred in during his latter years as a player, Williams’ addition to Jeff Cassar’s coaching staff has proven to be significant off the field just as much on it. Preaching to the continuity the club has maintained, Williams played with 11 players on RSL’s current roster and is looked upon as a mentor for the young attacking players.
"He’s not a big talker, but he’s there for the guys on different levels, which allows us to be connected with the players," Cassar said. "I can’t always be hanging out with the players, but Andy can be that link between the players and myself."
"I still talk to them as a teammate and they do the same, but whenever I sit them down and have something to say, they do listen," Williams added. "They take to the little points I do give them, so I think having that connection helps."
The door to perhaps earning a spot on the sideline was left open after retirement and being hired as a full-time scout for the club. Former coach Jason Kreis asked Williams if he was interested in attending training sessions last year, which really exposed the former RSL midfielder to the other side of things.
"I’m trying to do my best from this side," Williams said.
Having RSL’s lone original still part of the franchise remains very much a part of the now and the future as the club chases for MLS Cups — even if he’s still getting flak for zipping up windbreakers and slipping on long-sleeved shirts during summer’s peak.
"They laugh at it all the time," Williams said.
"All the time," Cassar followed.
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