Timbers Get Good News With Johnson Extension

The Portland captain’s new deal ensures he’ll stay in the Rose City for a while
by Ray Marcham   |   Thursday, March 13, 2014

Taylor Fugate Photography - Portland Timbers, MLS

The good news that came earlier this week likely took off a bit of the bitter taste from the draw that the Portland Timbers barely achieved on Saturday night.

The Captain is staying, and he should be for a while.

Monday’s announcement of a contract extension for Will Johnson was the latest step that the Timbers had made to ensure that the players that helped in the 2013 turnaround would remain a vital part of the club for the foreseeable future. But while the long-term deals for Diego Chara, Darlington Nagbe and Diego Valeri will help ensure excellence on the field, Johnson’s impact goes well beyond that.

One of the big reasons that Timbers manager Caleb Porter named Johnson the captain before the 2013 season was that he trusted the former Chicago and Real Salt Lake player to help change the culture of the locker room as well as on the field. It was somewhat controversial at the time because Portland already had a captain in Jack Jewsbury.

But Johnson more than surpassed what anyone expected him to do. He took a club that had become a mix of players left over from an atrocious 2012 campaign and a large group of newcomers who weren’t sure what they were getting into, helped them buy into Porter’s blueprint and turned them into the cohesive side that became the surprise of MLS last year.

His leadership qualities were recognized beyond Portland, as well. He was named Canada’s captain during last year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup, and is seen as remaining in that role for the foreseeable future. That likely includes Canada’s 2018 World Cup qualification matches that will start in 2016.

Of course, Johnson had a massive impact on the field, as well. Last season, he scored 9 goals, contributed 5 assists (both personal highs), became Portland’s free kick specialist and played more minutes than in any of his previous MLS seasons. He was named to the MLS Best XII for the season and was a member of the 2013 MLS All-Star Team that played against Roma in Kansas City. He was also named Canadian Men’s Player of the Year by the Canadian Soccer Association for the first time.

His reputation for getting into the heads of star players on opposing teams was amplified, including incidents that led to both San Jose’s Alan Gordon and Seattle’s Ozzie Alonso being suspended for actions against Johnson. He also was willing to challenge referees if needed, including the incident against Toronto where he earned a yellow after insisting that the TFC wall was closer than the allowed 10 yards, then walking it off to show Armando Villareal that the distance he had marked was only 8 yards from Johnson’s free kick spot.

That style quickly made Johnson a fan favorite in Portland, and his work off of the field has also endeared him to the Timbers faithful. The post-game photos of Johnson holding his daughter during the presentations of the log slabs to Portland’s goal scorers spread quickly when one is posted on Twitter or Facebook. To say that he’s popular in the Rose City is an understatement.

Not bad for a player who RSL believed they could no longer afford. His trade to Portland was part of a series of salary cap moves that the Utah club made before the 2013 season. But the experience Johnson picked up at RSL would help define how he would become the Timbers’ captain. On the field, he was part of RSL’s 2009 MLS Cup champions and the run to the 2011 CONCACAF Champions League Final. He was also a big part of the locker room dynamic that long-time coach Jason Kreis and RSL captain Kyle Beckerman helped create and a part of the core group that helped keep RSL among the top clubs in MLS.

That type of atmosphere is what Johnson has helped Porter create in Portland. There is the core group that gets the major part of the publicity, but the rest of the team is never left out. Johnson makes sure of that.

Being the captain of a professional soccer team is a major responsibility. The captain represents the club on the field, is the leader for his/her teammates and is often the first player the media looks for after a game or training session. Will Johnson has embraced the role, and is comfortable in it.

Fortunately for the Timbers and their supporters, he isn’t leaving anytime soon.

NEXT UP: March 16 – Portland Timbers vs. Chicago Fire, Providence Park, Portland, Ore. 3 p.m. EST, ROOT Sports NW, MLS Live.


Washington State
Club Domestic:
Portland Timbers
Club Foreign:
Cascadia native and a fan for as long as he can remember, Ray was brought up on the old NASL. Learned to love MLS. Wanted to play like Clive Charles. Then like Tony Adams. Only dreams, of course.