HELPING STARS SHINE IN THE GALAXY - TOM WILLIAMS ON LIFE IN LA: PART TWO OF AN IN-DEPTH INTERVIEW
- Head of Sports Science and Performance on how he works with top coach Greg Vanney
- Inside track on the bid to rebuild the fortunes of one of Major League Soccer’s glamour franchises
- The signing for Toronto FC that he believes changed the face of the MLS
GREG VANNEY has made an emotional journey home to the Galaxy, Tom Williams' job is to help make sure his stars shine.
As Head of Sports Science and Performance at one of Major League Soccer's glamour franchises, Welshman Tom has an integral role in the rebuild under a coach who starred for the Los Angeles club as a player.
Sport Careers Agency client Tom first joined forces with Vanney at Toronto FC where the coaching team constructed a stellar reputation and lifted the 2017 MLS Cup.
Now they are at the heart of the bid to revive the fortunes of the Galaxy who finished a lowly tenth and outside of the Western Conference play-off slots last season.
It's a challenge Williams is relishing and as we kicked off Part Two of our exclusive look at Tom's football life in La La Land he revealed: ”Greg is one of the best coaches I have ever worked for, he has a vision and he is open about it.
”I know that If I am going to frame performance sessions than I need to use the same language as him and give the players a constant reminder of what we are trying to do.
”Greg is a true football man, he can watch any league from across the world and he will know the players, where they are from and how the team is setting up. It's really impressive.
”It is also not just about our team with Greg, it is about the entire ORGANISATION.
”Yes, we have to win on a Saturday and that is 90 per cent of what keeps you in a job sometimes. You also have to care, though, about the other 10 per cent of laying down foundations that make the club sustainable."
Tom's final year with Canadian franchise Toronto FC was largely spent OUTSIDE of the Maple Leaf nation because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
TFC relocated to Hartford, Connecticut, in the States to be in a competitive bubble and keep playing in MLS.
They adapted to once more finish well in the Eastern Conference but lost in the play-offs to Nashville and a new chapter was beckoning for Tom after four fruitful years in Canada.
Tom confessed: ”It's an exciting project to be a part of in Los Angeles, there is a lot of work to do but it's terrific to be at a club with as much history as LA Galaxy.
”Life in Toronto became tough when we relocated the team to Hartford because of COVID-19.
”Greg has left a helluva legacy there, though. We were in Miami to play Inter Miami with Galaxy at the start of this season and TFC were playing Montreal Impact.
”It was surreal to watch the second-half of that TFC match having been with the team for so long.
”There were kids out there like Ralph Priso and Luke Singh who I have seen develop through the Academy at TFC and it means a lot to see them establishing themselves as MLS players now.
”Those are homegrown players making it through the ranks and that is so healthy for the game in North America.”
Away from the broad canvas view of the MLS, Williams is a key part of the Vanney process at Galaxy.
Tom gave Sport Careers Agency a fascinating glimpse inside the methods that brought so much success in Canada.
He stressed: ”When we work day to day I will be the first point of contact for the players. I let them know what is happening that day and relay the schedule.
”I will meet with Greg the afternoon before and learn what he wants to get out of the session.
”There will be a certain technical and tactical requirement, it might be transition and the warm-up will be tailored to that.
”From then there is gym work, injury prevention work, movement specific, everything is geared to getting them on to the field in the right frame of mind.
”I theme the day to support the coaching staff and have the players performing at their highest level.
”We have worked together so long now that we have a process together drill by drill.
”It might, for instance, be a 7 v 7 + 2 game and I can advise Greg that fits because from a volume standpoint it gives us this but from an intensity standpoint it's low.
”It may be that we have played poorly on the weekend which leads to a tactical session that is stop-start for the players.
”Later in the week then I may say we need a transition session because that week we haven't had a lot of intensity.
”That means we can get the work into the players IN the sessions rather than needing them to stay behind and do agility drills or change of direction to keep their levels up.
”I will encourage the players specifically then to get their work in during the drills and they don't have to come and hang out with me later!
”From the first team down we place a lot of emphasis on wearable technology. We have GPS, heart-rate monitoring, wellness and they are our big rocks.
”They lead the program and the coaching staff appreciates the information that we can draw out of those.”
That attention to detail is crucial as Galaxy bid to shine again in a league that was won by Columbus Crew last season.
Tom knows there is a flawed perception of the MLS in the United Kingdom and believes those who criticise the competition should look more deeply into its qualities NOW and not rely on dated misconceptions.
He reasoned: ”The way the MLS has developed in the last five years has seen astronomical change since I first came out in 2016.
”When David Beckham first came over back in the day there was a handful of teams, now there are 25 and they are all pretty competitive.
”The game schedule is more condensed, there are different games on different surfaces in different temperatures and players who haven't experienced that before really struggle with it.
”I like to be involved in the recruitment process, having a playing and coaching background, and I will give Greg my perspective.
”We need to know if the players are sustainable in this environment otherwise you will end up struggling through the season with injury as players aren't accustomed to the schedule."
Vanney has inherited a Galaxy squad with some experienced influences with former Manchester United striker Javier Hernandez, now 32, still a guiding light.
The former TFC boss also brought in 34-year-old ex-Barcelona playmaker Victor Vazquez, a title winner with him in Toronto, to help pull the strings in midfield.
It's clear, though, that the profiles of the players recruited will change significantly as the Galaxy project progresses.
Williams points to one landmark signing in Toronto that he believes helped change the face of the game in Major League Soccer forever.
Tom pointed out: ”When I was at Toronto FC we had Sebastian Giovinco coming from Juventus at the peak of his career and that was a game-changer.
”I think that was when TFC got the blueprint right with a much younger Designated Player who had played in the top leagues and had true calibre at that point of his career.
”Sebastian changed the outlook and then teams like Atlanta United, Austin FC and LA Galaxy took it a step further.
”Rather than going after a truly big name player they would go for potential like a Giovinco who was a name but not at the level say of David Villa who went to New York City FC at that time.
”The game is changing, many more dynamic and resilient players are coming in who are then being sold to European clubs for big money.
”They are recruiting players to change the outlook of the game and not just to sell jerseys.
”This league is now much closer to the Liga MX in Mexico than it has ever been.
”MLS teams are now far better defending, for instance, when traditionally that has been a weakness of the league.
”Now we have young MLS players going to play for Bayern, Roma, Barca and Juve and that is a huge change.”
So far early in Season One life with Greg's Galaxy has been an entertaining white-knuckle rollercoaster ride for Tom.
Their first two fixtures were five-goal thrillers with Vanney's side running out 3-2 winners over both Inter Miami and New York Red Bulls.
Then they got a stark reality check with a bruising 3-0 defeat at last year's finalists Seattle Sounders on the road.
This Saturday (May 8) sees an acid test. The wonderfully-tagged El Trafico, the Los Angeles derby against Bob Bradley's LAFC.
It's a huge game for Vanney & Co, Tom senses that and he said: ”All of our coaching staff have a history here at LA Galaxy and this is like a homecoming for them.
”The stadium has been there a long time and we train and play out of there.
”A lot of money has been invested there to take it to a different level.
”Players want to come here because it is LA but we need to put the Galaxy in a different scenario.
”We are looking to attract younger, hungrier players and our facilities need to be matched higher towards these teams.
”It would be great to have our own training facility and with both the Olympics and the World Cup coming here in years to come there is investment room for that to happen.
”We have 12 training pitches around our complex, it's a huge space to develop.
”We've started already because we want the first team locker-room to be an aspiration for the Academy players.
”They can't even SEE it from where they are housed now.
”They are taught that if they want to walk down that tunnel and get on that field with the first team then they have to make some sacrifices to do so.”
Sacrifices. Tom Williams has made so many of his own to make a journey from Mansfield Town to the Los Angeles Galaxy. Now for the next chapter.
TOM WILLIAMS ON THE SERVICE HE RECEIVED FROM SPORT CAREERS AGENCY
”The CVs help so much from Sport Careers Agency, I shudder when I see some of the ones I am sent now when we are hiring because I know how good mine looks.
”It has been done by an expert, the CVs get you through the door and get you interviews.
”I have never applied for a job since I became involved with Sport Careers and NOT got an interview. That's a good stat!”