Breaking into the first team as a young player is an inexact science. Yes, the player has to be good, but it also takes a confluence of other factors for a player to break into professional football. Right now, Orlando City center back Thomas Williams has a perfect opportunity to earn that place.
The 17-year-old homegrown product of Titusville, Florida, was one of the jewels in Orlando's academy. A tall and athletic left-footed center back is a rare commodity in global soccer, and Williams' is one of the better center back prospects in the United States, earning call ups to the US u20 and u19 national teams.
With a long-term injury to stalwart center back Antonio Carlos, Orlando City desperatly needs depth at center back, and instead of finding some veteran presence, Oscar Pareja is relying on Williams to step up, and this is his opportunity to prove his place in MLS.
Williams made his first competitive appearance for Orlando in the closing minutes in Columbus, a historic moment for a player raised in the club.
Williams made his first professional start the following game against the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the US Open Cup. Not only was this a memorable experience for Williams, it was the first chance to see what he could do at this level.
The Rowdies are not an MLS team, but they're arguably the best team in the USL Championship, and proved to be a strong test for the Lions. Williams was far from perfect on the night. His passing was often times too slow and his decision making was questionable. He didn't make any huge mistakes, but he did make mistakes nonetheless.
However, for all the mistakes and issues, Williams showed a confidence and a quality that you need in all prospects if they're going to make it at the next level. He wanted the ball in possession, he was unafraid to make a line-splitting pass or dribble, even if it wasn't always executed properly.
That's just talking about his play in possession. Defensively, he made a pair of fantastic challenges in the box, and generally did well to cover for Rodrigo Schlegel, who has a tendency to get caught out chasing the ball.
Williams is not a perfect prospect and probably not a starting caliber player at this moment, but the young defender showed why he's so highly thought of in this group. Until Antonio Carlos comes back from injury, Thomas Williams will continue to get his chance to make an impact, and as he grows from this start, who knows how good he can get.