SANDY — It was only fitting that in one of the biggest games in Real Salt Lake history — a win that put the team into the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals — RSL veteran midfielder Andy Williams played a major part in the victory.
Williams assisted on two first-half goals and scored a pretty goal off a free kick in the final minute to lead Real's 4-1 victory over Columbus Tuesday night at Rio Tinto Stadium.
Not only did Williams start his MLS career with Columbus, but he was the first draft choice by Real back in 2004 and the only original RSL player still with the franchise. So to play such a key role in a big game was meaningful to him as well as his coach.
"He was incredible tonight," said RSL coach Jason Kreis. "That was a very inspired performance. He had a hand in most of our goals if not all of them."
Although he is the only player still around from RSL's initial 2005 season, Williams credits the experience he and his teammates have with playing together for making a difference Tuesday night.
"Our midfield movement, knowing each other pretty well for the past three years, it's kind of like second nature now," he said. "You know where everybody is."
At 33, Williams is the oldest player on the team and one of the oldest in Major League soccer. When it was suggested to Kries that he played like a 25-year-old, Kreis said, "Twenty five, or 18?"
Williams just shrugged it off when someone said he was playing younger than his age, saying, "Everybody came in fit this year and it's paying off right now."
On the first goal, in the 23rd minute, Williams took a pass from Chris Wingert near midfield and flicked the ball with the back of his foot to Javier Morales, who quickly played a through ball to Alvaro Sabario, who beat the Columbus goalie.
"I heard (Morales) shout, and Wingert gave me a good hard pass," Williams said. "I knew whoever was marking Javy was coming to me, so I knew if I got rid of it quickly, he was going to have a lot more room."
The second goal, 13 minutes later, looked similar to the first, only this time Williams' through pass to Morales traveled about 15 yards and resulted in a goal for the Argentine.
"Javy made a good run and nobody followed him. I was trying to get it off my feet quick, and he did the rest," Williams said.
Later in the half, he intercepted a crossfield pass and had wide-open space to the goal as a Columbus defender closed on him, but his shot from 30 yards out sailed over the crossbar.
In the final minute, Williams brought the crowd to its feet with a nifty pass to Will Johnson who was hit from behind, just outside the goal box. Williams took the free kick and bent a long shot into top left corner of the net to put a punctuation mark on the victory.
Williams wasn't overly impressed with his goal just before time expired.
"What was it, 90th minute, 94th?" he said. "Nah, if it was a game-winner it would be different. It was icing on the cake, that's it."