It was a whirlwind offseason for Toronto FC midfielder Will Johnson, but the 29-year-old Canadian international has settled quickly.
Quicker than Johnson expected.
“For a bit of perspective I loved Portland. It was home, our son was born there and [the Timbers] were the first team I got to captain,” said Johnson following training on Monday in Orlando.
TFC acquired Johnson from the Timbers in exchange for a conditional second round pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft and targeted allocation money on December 18.
“To make a move away from there was always going to be tough. To try and find another environment that was similar without some of those pieces that were in place already, but I’ve found that in Toronto. I’ve found a new club that I love and enjoy being around. [My family] is going to attempt to build the roots that we had in Portland and make Toronto a long-term place for us. That’s the ultimate goal here.”
Johnson, born in Toronto, spent his formative years in England and then Chicago. That was followed by stints in the Netherlands, Salt Lake City and Portland. His career has come full circle, returning to his birthplace to continue his professional career.
Though Johnson spent most of January with the Canadian National Team setup in San Diego, CA, he is already part of the TFC leadership group that boasts a wealth of veteran insight and experience.
“It’s a great group of guys. Everyone has been very welcoming from the front office staff to the players,” he said. “Training sessions have been good. It’s been a lot of hard work and a new challenge. I haven’t played with guys of the stature of Sebastian Giovinco or the other national team players we have. I’m enjoying finding my place within the group and I think I can help.”
Johnson’s relationship with captain Michael Bradley goes way back. They grew up together in the suburbs of Chicago where their friendship flourished. That made Canada’s friendly with the United States on February 5 a little more interesting than usual, with Johnson going up against his new club teammates.
Was it a little strange playing against Bradley and Jozy Altidore?
“More so with Michael because obviously I’ve known him for a long time and we’ve been teammates before,” said Johnson.
“I hadn’t got to spend a lot of time with Jozy before that match so that wasn’t as awkward, but it was just fun man. I said before that game to a bunch of people, playing against elite level players on any level, on any occasion, is always fun. On that field, with the weather that night and that atmosphere, to have it be competitive, high level match like it was. I really enjoyed it. I’m glad I have those guys on my team.”
Johnson, who will wear the number seven shirt with the Reds, Bradley and Altidore returned with the club following their 12-day stay in Southern California. While Bradley and Altidore have worked with Greg Vanney and his coaching staff, everyone in the squad is adapting to the defensive shape and structure systems that are being implemented for the 2016 campaign.
“They’ve got a good vision of what they want to do with this group and they’ve done a good job going out and getting the pieces to be able to play that system,” stated Johnson.
“I worked with [assistant head coach] Robin Fraser at Real Salt Lake, so that’s a benefit to me because I know what he expects. For the young kids out there he was one of the best defenders to ever play in this league and Greg was too, although he didn’t spend quite as much time in MLS. It’s fun to play for those guys. They’re very intellectual, the way they read the game. The way they put on training sessions is a challenge, mentally and physically. That’s the part I’m enjoying the most.”
The Reds will take on Orlando City B in preseason action on Wednesday at 12:30 PM ET.
Join MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco and the rest of Toronto FC at BMO Field this season. 2016 Toronto FC Season Seats are on sale from $608 and up. In addition to Toronto FC Season Tickets, the Reds are currently on sale with TFC II Season Seats at $75.00 for TFC Season Seat Holders & $120.00 for non-TFC season seat holders. For More information head to TorontoFC.ca/tickets