While he didn’t see the pitch for Portland in the Timbers 1-0 loss to Toronto FC on Saturday, Will Johnson was nonetheless one of the most positive stories to come out of Portland’s only visit to Hogtown in 2015.
After enduring the a horrific leg injury at BMO Field eight months ago, the 28 year old midfielder is now back to full fitness and again available for selection by Timbers Head Coach Caleb Porter and Canadian Men’s National Team Head Coach Benito Floro.
According to the Canadian International, his return to full fitness was far from easy and was something that took both mental strength and physical conditioning to come back from.
“It was a lot of ups and downs and you had to keep things in perspective every day,” Johnson told RedNation. “It was a battle with good days and bad days and a lot of instances of two steps forward and one step back. It was something where you had to keep grinding and nothing about it was easy. I always had to keep things in perspectives because the professionals that I worked with always told me that I would come back 100%. I had to trust them and just do what they told me to.”
“It is a long season (in MLS) and I hope to have a long career,” he added. “With an injury like that, eight months is a long time. But if you play for 15 years, it really isn’t that long. So a big part is all about the perspective. That said, I’m glad that it is over for the most part.”
Even though he did not play against Toronto on Saturday, the Toronto-born midfielder has now played three matches for the Portland Timbers USL side and he is happy to pronounce that he is back to 100% physically.
“I’ve played three games and I played well,” Johnson stated. “I got around the pitch okay and the recoveries were good. So I’m at a level where I can play again for sure.”
Prior to his injury, Johnson was arguably at the peak of his powers, captaining a very competitive Timbers side and being a core player for the Canadian Men’s National Team.
According to the Blackburn Rovers youth product, his next step now involves earning the chance to play regular minutes at a high level with his club towards getting himself back to the level that he was at prior to his injury.
“I have to start getting involved in the games and that isn’t my decision,” Johnson said. “I hoped to be involved today (against Toronto) and I wasn’t. Those decisions are out of my control. As soon as he starts putting me in games, obviously 3-4 games down the road I will be even fitter than I am now.”
In addition to his desire to again cement a place in the Caleb Porter’s starting eleven, the Canadian International is also focused on earning a place with a Canadian Men’s National Team squad now lead by Benito Floro.
“Benito and I have spoken recently about getting involved in some of these camps,” Johnson explained. “Obviously, he wants to see me in a first team game. He was here today, but it didn’t quite work out. So we’ll look to Wednesday and see if I can get in that game. I think then (Benito) will make an assessment and see if he can get me involved in one of the upcoming camps. I hope to be involved.”
The 34 times capped Johnson has not yet played under Floro, but he is both excited about that prospect and buoyed by the progress that Canadian national team has made over the last couple of years under the leadership of the Spaniard.
“I think it will be a good relationship to work with somebody different,” Johnson said. “I’ve never worked under a Spanish coach and I’ve never worked with someone with his pedigree. So I’m excited about that. I think that the more he asks of me, the more I can give. So I look forward to that relationship and I hope it is sooner rather than later.”
“I’ve been able to follow the team’s progress (under Floro) a little bit,” he added. “I’ve watched the games that I have been able to watch and I have seen the highlights and tried to keep track of the progress of the team. I’ve also spoken to a few guys about how things are going. So I have definitely been present in that regard, but not as present as when you are in the camps obviously. I’ve kept up with it and it looks things are starting to turn the corner. There are some big events coming up and those will be an opportunity to take all of the work that Benito and the squad have put in and see how it looks in some really big matches.”
As looks forward to hopefully excelling under Floro as part of an on the rise Canadian squad, Johnson was candid in stating that, in addition to utilizing the expertise of the team’s highly regarded coach, the Canadian team must build on both the good and bad experiences the team endured over the last several years at the International level.
“We made progress from one qualifying campaign to another, even though it was over a four year period,” Johnson said. “We took it down the final game and we should have qualified from that group and not left it to the last two games. I think that was the frustrating part that we played well enough in the first four games to not even have to go down to Panama and Honduras and get points.”
“I think there have been lessons learned. Now it is up to us to make that next step and get to the Hex because if you ask me that is really the only way you track progress, that’s the marker.”