In a long, difficult, dispiriting year for the Canadian men’s national team, fans north of the border might feel hard-pressed to find a good-news story coming out of 2013.
But for Canadian Soccer Association president Victor Montagliani, when it comes to naming a player that stood out for the right reasons this year, the choice is easy:
“Will Johnson, for both club and country,” Montagliani told MLSsoccer.com in a recent interview.
Johnson, 26, captained the Portland Timbers to the top of the Western Conference standings and was recently named to the MLS Best XI for the first time in his career. Johnson is only the third Canadian, after Pat Onstad and Dwayne De Rosario, to be named to the MLS Best XI.
But he played in just three of Canada’s 13 games this year, which could bring him down in some observers’ eyes – not Montagliani’s, though.
“People might say, ‘What do you mean, for country? He didn’t even play for us in the last few games, because he had commitments in the playoffs,'” said Montagliani. “For country, [it’s] his leadership that he showed during the [CONCACAF] Gold Cup, although he only played one game.
“It’s stuff that people don’t see, behind the scenes. The way he was in camp, the way he took some of the younger players under his wing, the way the guy was sick to the point of having to take IVs and he still came out and played in that heat in Pasadena in the first game against Martinique.”
That gritty determination fits right into the classical mythology of the Canadian athlete, which helps explain why Johnson wore the captain’s armband during the Gold Cup game Montagliani referenced – a 1-0 tournament-opening loss to Martinique this past July 7 – and is widely expected to serve as the regular captain for Les Rouges in the years ahead.
As far as Montagliani is concerned, Johnson typifies one of the key qualities any team would be looking for in a captain.
“He’s a leader of the program," he said, "he’s a quality individual and Will Johnson, for me, stands out this year in terms of his performance on the field and off the field.”