Unless he has changed his mind - and he is allowed to change his mind - this game is expected to be Didier Drogba’s last as a professional. Closing out a legendary career with a trophy - even a second division trophy - is a fun story, and the presence or absence of a fairytale ending for Drogba is one good reason to have an eye on this match.
But for New York Red Bulls fans, there is perhaps another fairytale-in-the-making that might be of more interest. Devon “Speedy” Williams will be on the opposite side of the ball to Drogba and Phoenix Rising. While Drogba pursues Phoenix’s first and possibly his last trophy, Williams will be hunting his third consecutive USL Cup.
The 26-year-old Jamaican midfielder started his career as a professional with New York Red Bulls II in 2015. He was a regular for starter for NYRB II in 2016, contributing significantly to the squad’s run to a USL Shield and Cup double. Released by the Red Bulls at the end of that stellar season, Williams signed with Louisville City for 2017. He lifted USL Cup again at the end of that year. In 2018, Williams has again been a key member of the Louisville squad, and his team is back in the USL Cup Final.
This year, Williams contribution to his team’s Cup run was more obvious than usual. He is not typically a player who shows up on a lot of highlight reels: his work is primarily to win battles in midfield and get the ball to those whose job it is to score. But in this year’s Eastern Conference final, Williams came off the bench in the 64th minute to help Louisville control a Red Bulls II side that was threatening to take control of the game. NYRB II was still trailing 2-1 when Williams entered the match, but Louisville’s goals had come in the first half and the Red Bulls had scored in the 60th minute and were enjoying some positive momentum. And then Williams scored two goals in two minutes to crush NYRB II’s dreams of a comeback.
Williams is a not a goal scorer by trade, so don’t expect him to necessarily feature on the scoresheet in this game. But he should feature in the match at some point, be it from the start or off the bench.
There is also a Red Bulls connection on the Phoenix side of this game: Mike da Fonte was Speedy Williams’ teammate on NYRB II’s 2015 roster. Da Fonte moved on to Sacramento Republic for 2016, then joined Colorado Rapids in MLS for 2017. He was loaned to Phoenix by Colorado for the 2018 season, and was an important part of the PRFC squad this year until a recent injury forced him to the sidelines. That injury may keep him out of the USL Cup Final, but if he’s fit expect him to feature.
So regardless of the outcome, a former NYRB II player will be happy at the end of this game. Drogba’s swansong will be uppermost in the minds of most observers, but OaM will be watching to see if the night will bring a threepeat for Speedy Williams or a first USL Cup for Mike da Fonte.