PORTLAND, Ore. – Now that his Portland Timbers have won two straight games over two impressive opponents, head coach Caleb Porter will be called a lot of things.
That may just be on the list after Porter sent Will Johnson a text message predicting a free-kick goal from the Timbers captain before Sunday night’s game against the San Jose Earthquakes at JELD-WEN Field. Sure enough, it was Johnson’s sublime curling free-kick goal in the 78th minute that sent the Timbers to a 1-0 win in a hotly contested game against Western Conference rival and defending Supporters’ Shield champion Earthquakes.
“I texted him today, and I had a weird feeling that he was going to hit a free kick,” Porter said. “I texted him a few things and I said, ‘Why don’t you smack a free-kick goal today.’ And when he hit it, I couldn’t believe it.”
Johnson must have been feeling some of the cosmic mojo, too, because he said he spent extra time at training this week working on just that.
“A few of the guys were kind of upset with me because I hit a few of the cars this week at the training facility with some wayward kicks trying a few things,” Johnson said. “But I think everybody will be forgiving me tonight after being able to get one in.”
The blast that bent over San Jose’s defensive wall and inside the near post, just past the outstretched hands of diving goalkeeper Jon Busch, was Johnson’s third goal of what has been a stellar start to his Timbers career after coming over from Real Salt Lake.
Johnson, who has played in a key central midfield position in all six of the Timbers’ games this season, has already equalled his career-high season total in goals, and they’ve all been important – his first two came as he netted a second-half brace to lead the Timbers out of a 2-0 hole in a 2-2 draw March 30 in Colorado.
“I’ve always had the ability to score goals, and it’s nice to be producing for the team,” Johnson said. “And also being a leader, I think that puts a little bit of extra pressure on myself and responsibility when a play needs to be made.
"I played on a team in Salt Lake where guys, when they needed to step up did, guys who have been around the block and now I’m that guy. So I have to step up and make plays or will other guys to make plays. It’s all part of the evolution of my game and becoming a leader here in Portland.”
Johnson has also been central in leading Porter’s possession-oriented attack, which has resulted in impressive offensive numbers so far this season. And after three draws and a loss in their first four games, Portland has now beaten two-time defending MLS Cup runner-up Houston and San Jose in consecutive weeks, all while dominating possession statistics and earning clean sheets in both matches.
“It’s not really about me or the free kick, it’s more abut the team,” Johnson said. “The shutout we got, the work rate in matching last year’s Supporters’ Shield champions, going toe-to-toe, battling with those guys, it’s all about the team. Everybody’s going to talk about the free kick, it was a special play, but there were a lot of special plays out there today.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.