PORTLAND, Ore. – When Will Johnson left Real Salt Lake for the Portland Timbers before the 2013 season, he was departing a club that had built around a key group of players, leading to considerable success.
Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Alvaro Saborio – among others – have all been cogs in RSL’s success since 2010, and they were no plans for them to leave the club.
Now Johnson is part of what he hopes is a similar group with the Timbers, and there are no plans for him to leave his current club.
The Timbers announced Monday they had inked Johnson to a long-term deal, locking down the group’s captain who helped lead them to the Western Conference regular season title last year. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“You see the teams that are successful are the ones that are able to hold onto a core group of guys for a long time,” Johnson said following Tuesday’s training session at Providence Park. “The longer you’re with a team and a group of guys, the closer you become, the more battles you go into and come out of, and those ties just get stronger. And that definitely helps off the field, and it helps on the field. … Now we’re following that path.”
Handed the armband at the start of the 2013 season and tasked with bringing together a locker room full of newcomers, Johnson’s leadership was cited by head coach Caleb Porter as a big reason for last season’s success. The Canadian international also had a banner year, stats-wise, recording career marks in goals (9), assists (5), and minutes played (2,520). He was voted to MLS’ Best XI at year’s end, and was also named an All-Star.
“It’s big,” Porter said of the news of Johnson's new deal. “It’s another player that’s in that core, and it bodes well for now and into the future. We want to win now, but you want to win in the future, so we’re able to get a player the quality of Will Johnson on board long-term. Which ultimately we want to have a group of players here long-term, a core group, and he’s another one of those guys who’s going to be here for the club.”
Johnson, who holds Canadian, English and American citizenship and whose contract was set to expire at season’s end, said getting the deal done at the start of the season alleviates a big distraction. He said his sole focus can now be on improving with his teammates.
“When you’re coming into a contract year, especially in my situation with different passports, it opens up a lot of options,” Johnson said. “You get a lot of phone calls from all different sorts of people from around the world, so it’s a distraction that I don’t have to have anymore.
"I’m committed to the Timbers, my sole focus is on this football club and all I get to do now is just worry about this club and how we can win some games.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.