Ocean City FC Press Release - www.oceancityfc.com
Friday, May 21, 2010
OCEAN CITY, NJ - For three years, Chris Williams was one of the best defenders to ever play for Ocean City FC. "Big Chris" was a big part of the club’s undefeated regular season in 2004 and the helped the team reach the third round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup in 2005. Now, Williams has taken the road less traveled by signing with Da Nang FC, the defending league and cup champions of the V-League in Vietnam. He is in select company as only the second American player to ever play professionally in Vietnam.
Williams grew up in Philadelphia where he attended Cheltenham High School and later earned a business management degree at Philadelphia University. While in school in the city, he spent his summers in South Jersey playing for Ocean City FC (then known as the South Jersey Barons, and later the Ocean City Barons).
During those three summers, he racked up 2,330 minutes played (Ranking 10th in club history), and was named to the 2005 PDL All-Conference Team.
"We always thought Chris was going to progress to the pros," said Ocean City FC general manager Neil Holloway. "In his first season, in 2004, we went undefeated and he played a major role in the defense."
Following the 2006 PDL season, he took his 6’4 frame to the USL Player Combine where he caught the eye of Miami FC of the USL First Division (the level directly below Major League Soccer) and signed his first professional contract.
Luiz Muzzi, the general manager for Miami, was the one who signed Chris initially, and saw his development first hand.
"He came in a bit raw, but we saw his potential right away," said Muzzi. "We have nothing but great things to say about him as a player, and as a person. He’s a guy you can always count on and we’re really happy that he had the opportunity to grow and move on."
After two years with the Blues, he traveled to Denmark in October of 2008 to begin a series of events that would lead him to his current home. It began with a trial with second division club Blokhus FC, where he was offered a contract, but due to a family situation, he was unable to sign. In January of 2009, he had another trial, this time with Thisted FC of the first division. The goal was to impress at the trial and then to be signed during the summer transfer window. The trial went well and he was scheduled to return July 1.
Williams returned to Miami for the 2009 season and when the window opened, his agent informed him that he wouldn’t be able to sign with Thisted. The club told his agent that they were unable to sign another international player, so he would remain in Miami for the remainder of the USL season.
Following the 2009 campaign, Williams was contacted by an agent based in the Netherlands, who was in touch with the manager of Da Nang FC, a club in Vietnam who was enjoying a resurgance as of late. Da Nang had not won a championship since the early 1990s, but had just won the ’double,’ capturing the league and domestic cup championship in one season. The league championship also earned them a place in the Asian Champions League.
The manager, Le Huynh Duc, got a hold of Chris’ highlight tape and was able to watch a full game of him in action, and was very impressed. The club brought him in to have a look in person in November of 2009 and Williams signed a contract in early December.
Williams’ family and friends had a mixed reaction to the news of where Chris would be playing professionally.
"Some of my friends and family thought I was crazy, and others were all for it," said Williams. "The ones who were skeptical were unaware of the recent history of the country and could only associate the country with the war. The country has come a long way since then."
When asked to describe what it’s like to live and play in Vietnam, he had glowing reviews.
"Vietnam is a beautiful country. The major cities are densely populated and very fast-paced. I am fortunate enough to live in a much slower-paced environment in Da Nang City, which has a beach and many resorts.
The challenge of playing overseas is often the language barrier, and Vietnam has certainly been tough.
"At first it was difficult for me in terms of communication because the other international players at that time spoke either Spanish or Portuguese," he said. "The rest of the players only spoke Vietnamese or just a little bit of English, but eventually we signed a couple players that spoke English a little better."
The team added a translator which has made the situation easier and eventually he met more Vietnamese people who spoke fluent English.
With all of the changes off the field and adjustments to the language and culture, it was the play on the field that was also a big adjustment. Da Nang FC’s home opener was played in front of 29,000 fans, which is a big change of pace from Miami where they averaged less than 2,000 fans per game last year.
"The home opener was great," said Williams. "It was the most fans I’ve ever played in front of. Some games we’ve played has been over 35,000. We even get hundreds of fans who attend our training sessions, sometimes even a couple thousand. The atmosphere is great."
The season runs from February to August, and Williams was very impressed with the quality on the field.
"The level of play is a lot higher then I expected it to be," he said. "The Vietnamese are very technical, with a tremendous work ethic. Most days we train twice, so needless to say the conditioning of the players is great."
Holloway, who has been in charge of the Ocean City PDL club since 2003, is very proud of his former teammate.
"I think it’s great that he is experiencing a different culture and getting to play overseas," said Holloway. "I’m sure he’s enjoying being the foreigner on a team, but it would be great for him to come back home some day. I think the Philadelphia Union would do well to add him to their roster."