Men’s soccer rookie of the year
By Davie Wong, Sports Editor
The rookie movement has been a key theme to the success of both of this year’s Royals soccer teams. For the men, that rookie is Race Williams. Sporting the number 19, Williams has been a key player for the Royals this year. However, the 1995-born Polish, German, and Aboriginal Canadian actually started playing the beautiful game later than his peers.
At the age of 10, Race started his youth career in quite the unorthodox way. Coming from a family that was never really big on soccer until he and his brother started playing, most of Race’s childhood soccer career was on the playground of his elementary school. With his love of the game growing, Race wanted more and more of it, so he did what any kid does. He just asked his parents. “I went home one day and told my parents that I wanted to play soccer. How I started was, my dad just kind of told me to get into the car, and we went by a bunch of fields to find a team playing. We found a team, and luckily they were my age. My dad went up to the coach and asked if I could practice with them, and they liked me, so I started with them. I was 10 years old.”
From there, Race has fast tracked his way to semi-stardom, with his parents at his side every step. “My parents were supportive of whatever we did. My dad was a motocross racer and skier, so we did those things too, but we just fell in love with soccer, so he watched and he learned, and he basically trained us. My mom set everything up for us, in terms of setting up with teams and making connections.”
Through his youth, Race developed a love for scoring, and found his position as the number 10, better known as the attacking middle-center. Race describes his play style as one of a scorer, preferring to come from deep to score, rather than just being in a fortunate position.
“I like scoring goals. That’s what I fell in love with. The best moment is probably when the ball is in the net. I think it’s the best feeling in the world. I’ve never had anything that can even compete with that feeling. Scoring and helping your team out just feels good. I like to dribble and go towards players, and the attacking mid-centre just gives me enough room to do that. From there, I get to drive to the net and use my teammates as options to pull the goalkeepers attention elsewhere. I trust myself to put the ball into the net. I also like the space that I get. I like the gap, and when I get the ball, I like to drive in between those players. I like using my speed and agility to get into scoring positions.”
Something fairly distinct about Race is his height. Amazingly enough, the prolific midfielder stands at 5’5”. Despite his height disadvantage, Williams still finds a way to turn the play in his favor. “I use my quickness and decisiveness to my advantage. Being smaller gives me a lower center of gravity, meaning I can turn much faster than a lot of the bigger guys.”
One of the most unique parts of Race’s game is his sync and coordination with his brother, Max. As Race describes it, it’s something special.
“We played together when we trained together. I grew up playing with him because we trained a lot on our own. We compete and we bash heads, but when it really comes down to it, we’re good together. We don’t lose together. I love playing with Max; he’s a good player. He’s all around solid and he helps me be my best. When we were kids training together, Max clearly showed different strengths than me. He’s taller and he has great vision, but he’s not as fast, so we kind of play different roles on the field. I know what he likes to do, and he knows what I like to do, so we work off each other. When we help each other score, it’s the best. We’re brothers, so there’s that different connection that I share with him that I don’t have with any other players on the field. I feel like I know what he’s going to do, where he’s at, and where he’s going to be, more or less. And if he’s not, I get mad at him because I’m older than him,” he joked.
But Max and Race didn’t always play together. Actually, the two spent quite some time apart when Race went to pursue a professional career. For how late he started playing, he started pursuing the pro path quite early.
“I started in North Delta when I was 12. Then I went over to Surrey, and played for the Selects team for a while. After that was North Vancouver, where I found a spot on the Provincial team, and the National Training Centre program, where I spent a year. We went to Germany and all that cool stuff. After that I played for Burnaby [for three years], and we had a Y-League in the summer. During the Y-League, I got nominated for ODP three times, which meant I got to go to Florida to play against the US National youth teams. From a select group there, you can make the All-Star team, which I made three years in a row. During the middle of this, I went to a soccer school in Italy, where I got to play with against some top Serie A teams. I met an agent there who took me in and took me to England to try out for a bunch of professional English teams. I came home to finish school, and then went to Spain to play with a team called Hercules in Alicante. After that, I came home for Christmas before going back to Italy to sign a contract with a Serie D team for a year. Once that season finished, I came home to start my college career.”
While in Europe, his mother acted as his manager, coordinating to ensure that Race had the essentials while abroad. Although his ambitions of playing pro are still relevant, after his last stint in Italy, Race came back home to pursue a degree in physiotherapy at Douglas College. “I decided to come back to school after my time in Italy. I have a bunch of friends in the sports science program. I really wanted to become a soccer player when I was young, but if not, a physiotherapist was another choice. I’ve been injured a lot, so I know that physiotherapists can really make the difference in an athlete’s life.”
Race’s first year at Douglas wasn’t actually this year, despite it being his first year of eligibility. He joined the Sports Science program in the winter semester of last year. It wasn’t until later on in the year that he was approached by coaches Paul and Robby. “Paul and Robby have asked me for a couple years now to come out and play for Douglas, but I was in Europe and all that other stuff so I wasn’t really thinking about going to college. But now that I am, it just seems like a good opportunity to come here and play for them.”
Going into the 2016 season, Race had some pretty high ambitions and targets for himself.
“Coming into the season, I wanted to beat the top goal scoring record, which I didn’t. The style of soccer was much different than what I was used to from Europe. In pre-season, I scored a few times, but during the regular season, I was struggling to start. The styles were different in almost every way. I was having to adapt to having less time and space than what I’m used to having. Here, it’s a more physical, faster game. I had to go home and really think about how to change my game and watch game tapes to see where the spaces were. I found out that you have to go in hard in this league, or you’re going to get hurt. Coming into the year, I wanted to win the Rookie of the Year award and now that I have, I’m just super happy about it. I actually thought I was going to score more this season.”
Although Max was the player that set Race up for a lot of his goals, Race did a fair bit of setting up for his team as well as scoring. His strike partner this year was Matteo Serka, and between the two of them, they generated nine goals for the team. Normally, strikers play a more positional role for Race. They’re there to create space for the speedy midfielder, but Matteo is a bit different. “My connection with Matteo was different than what it normally is with strikers. I played out on the wing this year, but Matteo and I still connected fairly often. We did well together. He’s big and tall, and I use him as a target quite often in the set pieces, and he got on the end of two of them this season.”
With the season all but over, and a long offseason ahead of him, Williams is looking forward to playing a bit more this offseason, along with a variety of other things. “During the off-season, I play in the VMSL. I’m actually without a team right now so we’ll so what happens with that. I also love to ski, so I do a lot of that during the offseason. It’s actually a big part of my training regimen and how I stay fit during the winter. Other than that, I’m probably training for the next season, honestly.”
Although the offseason is so close, what’s even closer is the National Championships. With their silver medal finish this year, Race and the Royals earned a wildcard berth to the CCAA National Championships where they will have a chance to compete against the best teams in the country to solidify their spot in the country. The teams play this Wednesday, and continue the competition over the week. Keep a close eye on the CCAA’s or the Royals’ twitter accounts to follow the action.