SANDPOINT — Those who watched Tanner Williams as a prep standout at Sandpoint High School no doubt remember seeing a rare player with elite level soccer talent, and the 24 year-old is currently living his pro dream, recently capping a successful inaugural pro season in Europe.
Williams, who played in college at Concordia University and Evergreen State College before a brief stint with the Kitsap Soccer Club, spent the second half of the 2017 fall season with FK Jurnieks Soccer Club based in Riga, Latvia.
The skilled and quick forward scored eight goals and dished out six assists, including a hat trick against FK Liepaja of the Latvian Higher League. The play caught the attention of the Liepaja coaches, who invited Williams back early next season for the 2018 pre-season, an honor he called the year’s biggest highlight.
Williams, who is back in the Northwest and Sandpoint while enjoying a short off-season, admitted the European brand of soccer was the highest he’d ever played.
“The standard was higher than the collegiate and PDL (Premier Development League) ball I played in the past,” claimed Williams. “It’s similar to USL (United Soccer League) pro, which is considered the second tier here in the United States.”
Playing with FK Jurnieks and living abroad in Riga, a city of 640,000 people, taught Williams how to become a better student of the game he’s love since his youth. He’s absorbed lessons from some high level coaches, and played against varying styles of European pro soccer.
Most importantly, the explosive forward is having fun on the pitch and playing as well as ever.
“Applying the lessons learned from Jurnieks has resulted in me enjoying my football more than ever,” said Williams. “And I’m excited to keep challenging myself.”
Williams has volunteered at local soccer camps and personally trained some players in Sandpoint in recent years, always clinging to the notion of playing professionally.
He plans to head back to Latvia early next year for another season abroad, and is concentrating on getting physically fit for an important pre-season with Liepaja, also based in Riga. Another strong season could open even more doors for Williams, who plays with precision and flair.
“Theoretically if my performance is something a larger team’s staff is interested in, I could move to a bigger club or a different country,” admitted Williams. “There’s always a hint of the unknown in this profession. I’m focused on progressing with my football and staying healthy.”
He said the Latvian culture was more similar to the U.S. than different. Their daily routines mirror that of America, just in a much smaller country. Economically, the stunningly beautiful city is investing in infrastructure development and revamping the post Soviet Union vibe.
The biggest adjustment for Williams has been the language barrier, living where most folks either speak Latvian or Russian, neither easy to learn. He’s absorbed enough on the fly to survive, and has a goal of learning as much of the languages as possible before his return.
Williams wished to thank the local community for helping raise the funds to get him to Europe for the tryout that made everything possible.
“I want to give a big shout out to the Sandpoint community and all the people who helped support me to get overseas earlier this year,” said Williams. “I really appreciate it and thank all of you for helping make this dream a reality.”