Return home is a Real thrill

DEAN MCNULTY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

When O Canada is being played at the start of today's home opener for Toronto FC at BMO Field, there will be at least one person not wearing red with his hand over his heart and a tear in his eye.

For this is the once-a-year opportunity, Andy Williams gets to come home to play the game he loves, in the city he loves, before the family he loves.

The 30-year-old Williams, who was born in Toronto and spent his pre-school days in the playgrounds of North Toronto, said yesterday that of the 15,607 minutes he has played in Major League Soccer, it's the 90 minutes he will spend at BMO today, playing midfield for Real Salt Lake, that thrill him the most.

"I was just so happy when I heard that Toronto would get an MLS team," he said yesterday after practice. "When I played here last year (a 1-1 draw), I was proud to see the fans the way they supported their team, even though I was playing against them."

Williams was just four years old when family circumstances made it necessary that he move with his grandparents to their native Jamaica, but he returned every summer to spend vacations with his aunts, uncles and cousins in Toronto.

"I love this city," he said. "I came home every year until I went to college."

A soccer scholarship took him to the University of Rhode Island where he became the team's career leading scorer with 52 goals and 45 assists.

After graduation, he started his pro career with the Cleveland Crew before ending up in Salt Lake, where he has played for the past four seasons.

RSL coach Jason Kreis -- who was a teammate of Williams for two-plus seasons -- hasn't decided, or wasn't saying, whether Williams would start or come off the bench as he did in the team's 4-0 win over D.C. United last week.

"One thing we have this year is depth and Andy is a big part of that," Kreis said.

Williams became the object of playful taunting from his Salt Lake teammates yesterday as they were going through customs at Pearson International Airport and he got to go in the express lane thanks to his Canadian passport.

"The guys were giving it to me pretty good," he said.

Williams said he didn't bother with any sort of comebacks because he knew he would need their help later.

"I was just adding up the number of tickets I needed for my family and I didn't have nearly enough. So I had to go around buying any extras that my teammates weren't going to use," he said of today's sold-out game.

He expects a tough game, with the Reds trying to make a positive impression in their first home game of the season and introducing their new big signings to the rabid TFC crowd.

"It will be wild, but it will be fun," Williams said. "I know that with the addition of Laurent (Robert) and Amado (Guevara), I will have to be on my game from the very start."


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