Whether St. Michael the Archangel’s season ends with a trophy presentation at Tad Gormley Stadium or with the disappointment of an early ousting, senior Mitchell Williams has a life-changing decision to make.
Once the playoffs are over, Williams will decide between packing up his entire life to move to England in pursuit of a possible professional soccer career or hanging up the cleats in favor of a “normal college experience” in the states.
Williams has been extended an offer to play at the Richmond International Academic and Soccer Academy in Leeds, England, where he would be immersed into a soccer training program while simultaneously pursuing an American undergraduate degree. He has since rebuffed any offers from programs in the U.S.
“I’ve been playing for so long, I feel like I need a little break in order to make that big decision,” Williams said. “I don’t really want to play college soccer in the U.S. If I’m going to continue playing, I want to go off to England and play and continue to progress.”
Williams won’t make a final decision until after his senior season at St. Michael is finished, wanting to avoid any possible distractions as the Warriors make a run at a state championship.
Second-seeded St. Michael continues its postseason run as they host No. 7 Ben Franklin in the Division II quarterfinals at Burbank Soccer Complex at 2 p.m. Sunday. It is one of two Sunday quarterfinals involving Baton Rouge teams. In Division I, Denham Springs travels to Acadiana for a 6 p.m. matchup. Williams and his teammates previously defeated No. 31 A.J. Ellender 9-0 and No. 15 Teurlings Catholic 1-0 during the run.
Williams has 43 goals on the season and is three scores away from surpassing the century mark for his career.
RIASA is a small, American soccer academy in the northern part of England that offers players the opportunity to receive the same amount of training as international players. As opposed to American universities, RIASA students train year-round and are not restricted by NCAA guidelines.
Williams said a program like RIASA would give him the best opportunity to take his game to the professional ranks, giving him a chance to play showcase games against top clubs. RIASA recently defeated the West Ham Development Academy in a showcase match.
“College soccer in the U.S. isn’t the most efficient system,” Williams said. “Once college guys (graduate), they’re 24-25. If you go look at the best players right now, they’re 22-23. (Brazil National Team captain) Neymar is 23.”
St. Michael coach Paul Fletcher said, while he isn’t surprised by Williams’ success, it is rare for an American player to get an offer like this, especially one from Louisiana. In his 10 years coaching in the state, Fletcher has never heard of a player choosing to train in an international setting.
Williams first heard about RIASA from a program scout who contacted him. Before then he never considered playing overseas but fell in love with the idea after taking a visit a few months ago.
RIASA also would give Williams the opportunity to try different positions on the pitch. Williams is primarily a forward for St. Michael but also sees time as a defender during club season with Baton Rouge Soccer Club.
His biggest concern about the potential move is the culture shock of living in a different country. In England, something as simple as calling home proves to be difficult with the consideration of time zones.
“The first day I got there, it was cold, and they said it was a warm day. It was like 48 (degrees),” Williams said. “And the food was really weird. Not much taste to it.”