BEAVERTON, Ore. – In the Portland Timbers' run to the Western Conference Championship of the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs, they’ve been without the contributions of team captain Will Johnson.
It’s one of the more impressive aspects of their current six-game unbeaten run, stretching back to their three straight wins to end the regular season.
But Johnson, the holding midfielder who has missed Portland’s last eight games after undergoing a minor surgery to remove screws that were inserted after he broke his leg late last season, is fit and ready to go for Sunday’s first leg against FC Dallas at Providence Park (7:30 pm ET, FS1/FOX Deportes in US, TSN5 in Canada).
That much was made evident, Timbers head coach Caleb Porter said, by his two starts and 161 minutes of action for the Canadian national team in their last two World Cup qualifiers.
Johnson even assisted on Canada’s goal in their 1-0 win over Honduras last Friday.
“Will looks good, and I was happy to see him go with Canada and get some match minutes,” Porter said Friday after a training session at the team facility. “And what he did was put any question to bed of whether or not he’s going to come back from the broken leg. There can be no doubt that Will Johnson is back and he’s healthy.”
“With us, he’s not in a rhythm with our team,” Porter said. “In terms of playing minutes, there [are] some guys that are. And so the decision I have is do you go with a guy that’s not been in a rhythm with your team but has shown that now he’s back after getting that second surgery and the screws out.”
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Even more of a question mark would be how Johnson fits in with the Timbers’ revamped formation, switching from their normal 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 hybrid that features only one defensive midfielder, usually Diego Chara, that was made two months ago.
On Sunday, Lucas Melano is likely to fill in for Wallace. Darlington Nagbe will take over Valeri’s attacking midfielder role, Porter said, leaving the question of who will fill in at central midfield.
“Do we go with a guy like Jack Jewsbury or George Fochive, who are in more of a playing rhythm with our team, or Will Johnson, who is now I feel physically ready but isn’t in a playing rhythm with our team?” Porter mused. “So from a chemistry standpoint there’s more questions with that. But the questions of his he healthy is he fit, there’s no question about that anymore.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.