LEARN MORE ABOUT CFC'S FIRST-EVER SIGNING IN THE MLS NEXT PRO ERA.
Forty-seven nights ago, in front of 20,000 fans at Q2 Stadium in Austin, Texas, Jesse Williams came off the bench in the 66th minute to represent Trinidad and Tobago in the Concacaf Nations League quarter-finals.
His opponents that evening? The likes of Giovanni Reyna, Folarin Balogun, Weston McKennie, Sergino Dest, Yunus Musah of the United States men’s national team.
One month later Williams put pen to paper to become the first signing in the MLS NEXT Pro era for Chattanooga Football Club.
ChattanoogaFC.com caught up with Williams to learn more about his journey and career path ahead of a monumental season for the club.
Can you tell us about your initial conversations with coach Underwood and why you chose CFC as the next step for your career?
Jesse Williams: It was mainly the clear vision that Rod [Underwood] has for the team. He has a very clear vision of what he wants. He’s a coach I think I can learn from. He’s really straightforward, goal driven, a winner, a champion, and those are some of the key things. I want to be in an environment where he can help me grow as a player. It was really his winning mindset and his style of play, to be honest.
What are some of your early impressions of the team that you will be joining?
From watching some games from 2023, I can tell they have great chemistry and a good style of play. They play to win. They dominate games. Those are some really positive aspects, to be honest.
Who are some of your early soccer influences?
I actually looked up to [Cristiano] Ronaldo a lot and some local-based players like Mekeil Williams, who played in MLS for a couple of seasons. I also looked up to Stern John, who also played in England, and who was my coach at one point. I also looked up to Kenwyne Jones and Levi Garcia, who’s one of Trinidad’s top players right now. Ronaldo played a really strong role for me in the way he works and takes care of himself and does things on and off the pitch, so I really looked up to him as well. There’s also Thiago Silva, as a defender. I love his style and longevity.
You've said that you’re a big Chelsea FC fan, so ‘CFC’ works well for you, doesn’t it?
Pretty well! I’m Blue, Blue all the way! I finally get to wear blue again (laughs).
What has the journey been like for you to break through to the senior national team for your country?
It’s been tough, but it’s been a good transition from growing up through the youth academies. It was a tough transition but it’s helped me become the player that I am today. I had to fight for every spot and for every call-up. It’s been great as I had the opportunity to play alongside some Trinidad greats and also play against some of the best players out there. That’s played a big part in my development.
On that note, what have been some highlights in your early career with the Soca Warriors?
The first one has to be the Gold Cup when I played against Mexico and specifically Hector Herrera. And also playing against USA and players like Sergino Dest. That’s been a highlight of my career so far. I’ve also played in Europe for some time, for Braga’s academy, and that was also a highlight for my development.
What do you know about MLS NEXT Pro, and how excited are you about being the first signing for the club in this new era?
Honestly I’m really, really excited. I know MLS NEXT Pro is a great stage for young and upcoming talent to show themselves and to hopefully land in MLS or a big club in Europe. That helped me make this decision and feel like it was the best fit for me. It’s about competing against some of the best young talent.
What do you anticipate the level of competition to be like compared to where you’ve played in the US so far?
I’m expecting a high level, honestly. We don’t really take anything for granted. I understand that Rod [Underwood] is a champion and he wants to play at a high level. He wants to do everything at a high level. I know for a fact at Chattanooga we will be playing at a high level for us. The league is progressing well and has some really good players; some players I’m quite familiar with as well. It’s a challenge that I’m ready for.
What are some of your objectives for your time in Chattanooga?
I personally want to be a great team player, help the guys, create history and win the championship in our first year in MLS NEXT Pro. I want to do whatever it takes to make the team win. That’s the main thing I focus on. If I get individual awards by doing that, then it’s fine, but that’s just individual. For me, I’m more concerned about the team and getting the job done by any means necessary. It’s more about the team and collective for me.
Finally, what do you know about Chattanooga as a city?
I’ve heard there’s great rivers and mountains to go hiking. That’s basically all I know for now, but I will learn about the city pretty fast when I get there!