When Real Salt Lake take the field next spring for their 2012 season opener, they will be without a foundation of the franchise, a mainstay from the club’s humble beginnings.
Gone will be the hallmark long sleeves, the distinctive No. 77 across the back, and the silky-smooth ball skills in the midfield. Yes, midfielder Andy Williams, has retired after 14 seasons in MLS. He will now join the technical staff as a scout.
“I’ve thought about it for a little [while], and I just wanted the fans to be the first group of people to know that I’m going to be retiring this year,” Williams told local ESPN700 Sports Radio on Monday. “I’ve officially played my last soccer game for Real Salt Lake.”
Williams, 34, was the last remaining player from RSL’s first-ever team, having joined the squad as an Expansion Draft selection in 2004. Obviously filled with emotion, he thanked the people who supported him during his career, particularly “the fans – for all that they’ve done for myself and my wife. I’m speechless. For me and my family to call this home, it’s been ... it’s been amazing.”
Williams' wife, Marcia, was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia in 2008. Her fight energized MLS and the entire US soccer community to raise awareness and help her find a marrow donor. Her cancer has since gone into remission.
Speaking on the radio, Williams admitted that he felt like he had another year on the field left in him, but he said he was looking forward to having an opportunity to shape the game off the pitch.
“I’m pretty excited about the opportunity they’ve given me, from the owners to the coaching staff, allowing me to be a part of RSL, even if it’s not playing on the field,” he said. “I think I have a lot to offer off the field.”
Williams’ retirement was the culmination of an hectic month in which RSL left him unprotected in the Expansion Draft and exposed to the Re-Entry Draft, as he and the club mulled what made the most sense for each party.
“We’re in a tough spot with respect to the salary cap,” general manager Garth Lagerway told MLSsoccer.com in a phone interview, “and rather than asking Andy to take a substantial pay cut we thought it would be best to transition him to the technical side of things.”
“I think when we had come to the conclusion with both Robbie [Russell] and Andy that we were going to have to ask them to take substantial pay cuts, the decision was made that it was probably better to put those guys in better situations and to respect them and their wishes as much as possible,” Lagerwey added. “So that’s how we approached it.”
As news of the announcement broke, Twitter was flooded with notes of well-wishing for the Williams (@bommadog), who was widely known as “Bomma.”
Among those to pay their respects was Russell, also recently departed. “@bommadog was an original @RealSaltLake!!,” he tweeted. “If anyone deserves a testimonial game it's him!! Hope we can get that done.”
But perhaps it was RSL defender Nat Borchers, who summed up the feelings among the RSL supporters best: “@bommadog - legend: smooth on the ball, cannon of a shot, great personality, electronics wizard, & selfless teammate. Will miss u. #legend.”