Age at MLS Cup: 25
Hometown: Hinsdale, IL
A former homegrown player of the Chicago Fire, the Crew acquired Lillard in a mid-August trade with Miami. The 6’4″ centerback didn’t make any appearances for the Black & Gold in 2020, and as Josh will point out, the transition to a new team/city in the middle of the pandemic couldn’t have been easy, but Josh learned a lot about Grant as a player through games of teqball. For those unfamiliar, it’s a more advanced version of soccer tennis. It’s played on a table as a hybrid ping-pong/volleyball type game. Here’s a video so you can see what it’s about so you understand what Josh is referencing:
THROUGH JOSH’S EYES
“I’ve been there before where you join a new team in the middle of the year. It’s always kind of tough to integrate yourself into that team when it’s the middle of the year. With Grant coming in during the middle of the year, and it being a COVID year, I think it would be especially hard. That’s because when you sign with a new team or get traded to a new team, you normally integrate yourself by finding a group of guys to hang out with off the field or bond with guys in the locker room. When Grant came in, and the same with Krisztian Nemeth, the locker rooms were split up. We had two locker rooms because of COVID, and you couldn’t hang out with anybody off the field. So dealing with that, I think that was probably tough on those guys. I can’t even imagine trying to do that in a crazy year like this, where maybe your wife or your family or your girlfriend can’t necessarily join you right away and you just literally go to training and don’t know anybody there. Thankfully, our locker room is pretty good at welcoming new guys in and integrating them quickly. But then you leave the training ground and you don’t know the city and you can’t really go out and explore the city because of COVID. I’d imagine they had a hard time because *I* had a hard time and I knew the city. So I can’t imagine what they were going through.
“But Grant’s another one of those guys who shows up with a smile every day at training and is ready to give his all for his teammates and himself. He’s just another one of those guys who’s crucial to have in a locker room. I feel like I’ll say this 30 times by the time we are done with this, but he’s another guy who always seems to be in a good mood. He’s intelligent and you can have a conversation with him on just about anything. He said he is a golfer, but we didn’t get to golf with him this year. I don’t even know if he had his clubs here.
“He’s just a good kid. He’s a physically gifted, tall, lanky centerback. Really athletic. He kind of reminds of me of when I was a younger player starting out my career. There is raw talent but he just needs games. I think when Grant gets games, his play will take off. To me, he has all the tools to be a good centerback. He approaches the game the right way and he approaches training the right way and cares about the details.
“One story I think relates to that is our games of teqball. It’s like a game of soccer ping-pong basically. I always joke that you can tell what kind a player a guy is by putting them on the teqball table. It’s similar to volleyball in that you get three touches on each side, but only one player can touch it consecutively, so it has to go back and forth. The idea is you want to receive it and pop it up so you can spike it or get some kind of killshot. At least that’s the plan, like in volleyball. Your first touch has to be correctly weighted to your teammate so he can set you and you can try to spike it. You can tell Grant appreciates the little details in the game because his rising stock in the teqball rankings, which I made up and completely rigged so that I was always number one. We’d come out with weekly rankings that I rigged so I was always the best, but Grant’s stock rose quickly because you could tell he cared about the little details of those games, like the proper weight of a set and where to put it so your teammate can spike it. I think those little minute details in teqball translate onto the field. Like, Hector was another good teqball player. So to me, Grant’s ability to realize the important little details in teqball shows what kind of player he is. I realize that’s a weird story to tell, but I think it’s true. You can see a link where Grant cares about the finer details of the game. I think that’s a huge credit to him. He’s a good technical player, and as soon as he starts getting games, I think his play is going to elevate a lot.
“Teqball is pretty much the only thing we had to really bring him in. The locker room was split up and he was in the makeshift locker room in the lounge area. I think he integrated quickly with Aidan, Seba, Tarbell and some of the guys who were over there. They had their own little camp because they had to spend the majority of their time over there. I would talk to him about basketball. He’s a knowledgeable guy about a lot of different things, but especially sports. Just a very sharp kid. Great personality. I’m glad he’s on the team and I think next season he will come out more because the world will open up for him. Literally.”
[NOTE: To see a clickable list of earlier installments of this Josh Williams series or other MLS Cup related posts, please click HERE.]
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