Gold Cup: Canada captain Will Johnson ready and willing to cultivate next generation of players

Johnson: "We’re going to go and compete and we’re going to fight"

Will Johnson, Canada vs. Japan, 3.22.13

Photo Credit: 
(USA Today Sports)

When Canadian national team interim head coach Colin Miller announced his camp roster for the upcoming Gold Cup tournament, there was a sense that the Canadians were ready to begin preparing their next generation.

Left off the list were mainstays like Dwayne De Rosario and Patrice Bernier, and in were several youngsters who had never seen action at the senior international level. So the expectations for the near future, understandably, are a bit tempered as the outfit trains in Southern California for their tournament opening game Sunday against Martinique.

But that’s not exactly how their new team captain operates.

“You know me, it’s all about results and it’s all about winning and it’s all about having the right mentality and the right attitude when we step on the field,” midfielder Will Johnson told MLSsoccer.com a day after he wore the armband for his country for the first time in a 1-1 draw against the Ventura County Fusion.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re a 10-year pro in my eyes or it’s your first cap, the mentality has to be right. And we’re going to get that right, we’re going to go and compete and we’re going to fight and we’re going to outwork the other team and see where that puts us.”

Johnson, also team captain for the Portland Timbers, has earned high praise for his leadership in his first year with his new club. He’s enjoying a career year in his seventh season in MLS, already doubling his previous career high in goals with six and equaling a career high with three assists while leading the Timbers to a record-setting first half of the season.

But it is Johnson’s work ethic and fiery on-field demeanor that is garnering respect league-wide. And there’s one thing Johnson hates, and that’s losing.

“There’s a lot of kind of feeling out the lay of the land going on for these young kids,” Johnson said. “So a little more teaching is involved. And obviously we’re trying to show them the correct way to act and perform when you represent your country. … We’re just trying to keep things as steady as possible and prepare ourselves because results matter in our very first game.”

Johnson said there is a feeling of excitement for the future of Canadian soccer, but he also wants to establish a winning tone in the present. There are eight players in camp who have yet to play in a senior tournament.

“It’s a new generation,” said Johnson, who at 26-years old is one of the team’s elder statesmen now. “And we have to establish this group right away and get them experienced at a national level and work towards competing and qualifying for the World Cup.

"Everything is geared toward that in every possible way, and by bringing in 10 or 15 very young and inexperienced soccer players you hope that over the next four years that four or five of these guys can be national team starters regularly and play and get minutes with the national level.”

Johnson, who has 33 caps with Canada, said he hasn’t spoken with some of his veteran teammates who were left off the camp roster. But he said there’s an understanding that the time is right to take a look at a younger group.

“It’s normal for these things to happen,” he said. “Turnover eventually comes, and the guys who were left off and are still available and playing are fine with it; they’re professionals. It’s just the reality.”