Now a member of CF Montréal following Monday's trade that sent the No. 11 overall pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft north of the border, Johnston is set for a different role: A team leader both on and off the field, tasked with helping Montréal get back into the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.
"When I was in Nashville, if I made a mistake, everyone would point to: He's still a rookie, he's still one of the young guys, he's on the reserve minimum," Johnston said Thursday on his introductory video call. "But now, I go into this, I'm a Canadian international. Big transfer fee to come get me. It's one of those ones, the pressure comes up. But I think as a football player, that's something you enjoy. You want the pressure to be there.
"At Nashville, I was the youngest starter pretty much every game. Here, I look at that backline and I'm potentially one of the old guys. I can't even grow a beard yet and I'm one of the oldest guys. So it's funny like that. ... I'm excited to have a bigger role. That was another thing that intrigued me, putting a little more pressure on myself to really take my game to that next level."
Johnston, 23, has impressed throughout his first 44 MLS games. And it's why CFM sent $1 million in General Allocation Money to Nashville for his services, then signed him to a new two-year deal with options for the 2024 and 2025 campaigns.
Johnston was a regular starter for head coach Gary Smith's group, one of the league's best defending teams. He took a pronounced step forward in 2021, scoring his first MLS goal and adding an assist across 26 games. That accelerated a Canada men's national team breakthrough, earning 18 caps as they make a legitimate push to qualify for the country's first World Cup since 1986.
Now, Johnston is relishing the chance to compete in his home country and join the upward momentum head coach Wilfried Nancy has instilled. He'll also feature alongside two close friends and Canada teammates: defender Kamal Miller and midfielder Samuel Piette.
"I think they play a very beautiful style," Johnston said. "They're one of my favorite teams to watch actually, last year, even when we played them with Nashville. Even though we actually had some decent results with Nashville against Montrèal, I thought they were one of the more difficult teams to play.
"I think they have really good personnel and they're very young and Canadian, which I think is exciting, being a Canadian player to be a part of that project. And I think they're only going to grow and get better and I'm just excited to be a part of that. I think I can help the team and I'm really excited to get going."
In 2021, CF Montréal fell just short of a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference. With Johnston, the hope is they've found a missing piece to get over that hurdle and even make a 2022 Concacaf Champions League run after qualifying as Canadian Championship winners.
"I know missing the playoffs was a big disappointment, it came down to those last two games, which was a bummer," Johnston said. "I know what I want to bring to this team is to make a deep playoff run. I think that's something that everyone wants in Montréal. I know it's a really big fanbase and a really intense fanbase too – I know from what I've seen on Twitter and social media.
"So for me, the focus is just on getting us back to where this club belongs. It's a really famous club, it's a club with great tradition and history, so it's about focusing on making a deep run in the [Concacaf] Champions League and in the MLS playoffs. So hopefully we'll culminate the year with Canada being in the World Cup as well and that would be a great 2022 for myself and we'll see from there. I have a four-year contract and I expect to be here for multiple years."