PORTLAND, Ore. – Will Johnson is no couch potato.
So it goes without saying that being back on the training field with the Portland Timbers this week, after missing the last four games with a shoulder injury, is more than just a good feeling for the midfielder and team captain.
The month he missed – and the Timbers' two consecutive road losses he watched on TV – represented a challenging time in an otherwise breakout season for the former Real Salt Lake man.
“When the guys are struggling, any one of us who’s not playing feels the pain,” Johnson said after Tuesday’s training session at JELD-WEN Field in preparation for Saturday’s home game against Toronto FC. “We’re all in this together, we all want to win. Collectively, whether we’re on the field, up in the stands or home on the couch, it’s a group of guys that sticks together.”
Johnson broke a bone in his shoulder during Portland’s 2-1 loss to Real Salt Lake in a US Open Cup semifinal match on Aug. 7. Portland won their next game 10 days later against FC Dallas, but then drew 3-3 at home Aug. 21 thanks to a stoppage-time equalizer by RSL. Two losses then followed: 1-0 to Seattle on Aug. 25 then 4-2 last Saturday against RSL once again.
The Timbers have suffered a number of injuries of late, including suspensions to key players in their last two losses, but Johnson’s absence has been the most glaring.
“With suspensions and injuries, everything kind of caught up to us and led to a few poor results,” Johnson said. “We’re down a little bit, but we still have a lot of fight left in the tank. Just because we lost two games, I don’t think it really says much about this group. We still have plenty of fight left.”
In his seventh year in the league, Johnson has already recorded a career high in goals (six) and equaled his career high in assists (three). The Timbers miss his production but they are also missing his leadership. The four goals allowed against Salt Lake were a season worst for Portland, and the three goals RSL scored against them on Aug. 21 were the most they had allowed since the March 3 season opener against New York.
“I’m so emotionally invested in this game and this team, it’s been tough,” Johnson said.
Now that he’s back around his teammates on the training pitch, Johnson is hoping to put an end to the team’s struggles. He said he’s still working through exercises to get the shoulder back to 100 percent, but said he feels fine physically otherwise and is hoping to “earn a spot in the 18 and maybe starting 11.”
“I just try to do my thing,” he said. “I just try to motivate guys and make guys around me better and lead the best I can. … So I just come back out here and try to fight and try to inspire and do all the things that I’ve done since the day that I started playing, and hopefully that translates into a little more success than we’ve had recently.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.