Eryk Williamson looks likely to sign an MLS Homegrown contract, but multiple reports point to the D.C. United academy product signing with the Portland Timbers instead. The Washington Post’s Steve Goff first reported that a deal was “very close” per United GM Dave Kasper, while Stumptown Footy’s Chris Rifer confirmed a done deal in Portland.
Terms have not yet been disclosed, though Goff’s article notes that United will retain a percentage of any future transfer fee the Timbers get should they opt to sell the Alexandria native.
United had been considering a homegrown deal for Williamson as far back as last year, and the 20 year old opted to forego his final year of eligibility at Maryland after leading the Terrapins with 6 goals this past season (adding 5 assists in the process). In his three years as a starter in College Park, Williamson posted a total of 15 goals and 15 assists playing a wide range of attacking positions. His best run of form may well have been the back half of his freshman season, playing as a withdrawn forward, but Williamson’s long-term position has long been seen as somewhere in the midfield.
Thanks in large part to his exploits with the United States under-20 national team, Williamson has been strongly rumored to have suitors in European leagues. Alleged interest from Schalke 04 drew significant attention, but rumors linking him to clubs in Scandinavia appear to have been more solid. However, it is doubtful that Williamson is still pursuing such a move at this point, and will instead vie for time with PTFC (or, in all likelihood, their Timbers 2 USL side).
The deal certainly seems to make sense for both player and club. United’s interest in Williamson has waxed and waned over the past couple of years, and over the past twelve months the Black-and-Red have done well to assemble a deep, young midfield. Whether Williamson was going to end up playing on the flank, as an attacking midfielder, or as a (particularly attack-first) box-to-box option in the middle, he would have found playing time very hard to come by on a team with Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Zoltan Stieber, Ulises Segura, Ian Harkes, Darren Mattocks, and Bruno Miranda. Of that group, only Stieber and Mattocks are over the age of 24.
Portland’s interest in Williamson is curious, as the same issues appear to be in place. The Timbers are nearly as deep as United in the same positions (including MLS MVP Diego Valeri) and they’ve just added Peru international Andy Polo to the mix. While new head coach Giovanni Savarese’s plans in Portland aren’t entirely clear yet, it seems probable that Williamson will get most of his 2018 minutes playing for Timbers 2.
MLS sides have long had the option of trading an academy player’s homegrown rights, though such moves are rare. In fact, the Timbers were the first MLS club to make such a deal, trading Kosuke Kimura to the New York Red Bulls for Bryan Gallego’s homegrown rights in 2012. Gallego eventually signed with Portland just over a year later. More recently, Orlando City sent Rafael Ramos and and some TAM to the Chicago Fire to secure the rights of Fire academy midfielder Cam Lindley.