BEAVERTON, Ore. – Call it a getting-to-know you call-up.
Will Johnson, the Portland Timbers' devoted captain, joined the Canadian national team for two World Cup qualifiers last month, his first call-ups since he captained the side in the 2013 Gold Cup under interim head coach Colin Miller. Johnson also was just returning to action with the Timbers following a long layoff from a broken leg suffered late last season, and he understandably didn’t see any action in Canada’s two wins over minnow Dominica.
Johnson was subsequently left off of new boss Benito Floro's young roster for the upcoming CONCACAF Gold Cup. Johnson said the decision was partly his doing due to the condensed tournament schedule and the fact that he’s still not quite 100-percent fit.
“It was my decision,” Johnson told MLSsoccer.com at the Timbers' training facility ahead of their 1-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes on Sunday. “I asked to stay back. It just didn’t make sense; there’s three games in eight days with a stupid amount of travel.
“I don’t like how they set up the Gold Cup when you’re healthy, so for a guy coming off an injury … it just didn’t make sense for me.”
That’s not to take anything away from how Johnson has performed since his return from injury.
In five Johnson starts, interspersed with games off for recovery, the Timbers are 5-0. He has not recorded a goal or an assist, but the holding midfielder has always been a player who affects the game in different, sometimes intangible, ways.
“I feel pretty good,” Johnson said. “I still have some days where it’s pretty sore, so I’m still working on the consistency. But mentally, I feel good. I feel confident in my body that I can compete at a high level, and I think I’ve shown that. So the proof is in the games I’ve played.”
As far as his future with the Canadian national team is concerned, Johnson said it’s anybody’s guess. He said his time in camp in June was useful for getting to know Floro and a roster full of players just starting their international careers. Following the Gold Cup, Canada will be preparing for a home-and-away World Cup qualifying series to be played Aug. 31-Sept. 8.
“It’s a young group, a lot of young guys all very eager to do well, so I’m still kind of learning the names of some of the players and the way the coach wants to play,” Johnson said. “So I’ll watch the Gold Cup games and see if I can help. Like I said, if I get back to a point where I can play well and think I can help that team and they think I can help that team, then maybe there’s an opportunity.”
Johnson added that it would be an inauspicious time to leave the Timbers for a week or more. Portland are in the midst of a hot streak in league play with five wins in their last six games – perhaps not coincidentally matching up with Johnson’s return – after a slow start to the season had them in last place in the Western Conference in late May.
“The Timbers stuck by me for seven, eight, nine months of watching me not be able to help this team,” Johnson said. “So now I’m finally healthy, and it just didn’t seem right to go away with Canada and start playing games for them and play more games than I had for the team that took care of me when I was down. At some point, the Canada games will be an option, but it’s just not right now.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.