Relegated to a bench role, Toronto FC's Will Johnson may test free agency

Will Johnson - Toronto FC - solo

Toronto FC's deep playoff run is almost certainly what Will Johnson envisioned when he joined up with the Reds following a victorious conclusion to the 2015 season. What he probably didn't envision, though, is that he would mostly be taking in the team's chase for a first MLS Cup from the bench.

Despite being one of Toronto's major offseason acquisitions, the 29-year-old central midfielder has found playing time hard to come by in the stretch run – after a run in the starting lineup through most of September, Johnson made only one substitute appearance in three games in October and has featured in a substitute role in each of TFC's three games so far in the 2016 postseason.

The Canadian international, who has battled two tough injuries in the last three years, admitted in an interview Saturday with the Toronto Sun's Kurt Larson that the lack of recent playing time was "a huge negative" for him and "not why he came [to Toronto]." Nonetheless, he remains focused on the task at hand – delivering on the high expectations set for TFC at the beginning of the year.

“[Toronto head coach Greg Vanney] doesn’t need to talk to me about [playing time],” Johnson said. “I don’t need him to hold my hand. We’ve had conversations about what he wants me to do given the team he’s riding right now. I’m on board.

“I’m willing to do whatever I have to do. I’m proud that I have been able to execute that and he’s happy with me, but obviously I’m looking for a bigger role.”

Only after the playoff run ends, one way or another, will Johnson determine his future, a topic he touched on in the interview with the Sun. As a player over the age of 28 with at least eight years of service in the league, he is eligible for free agency at the end of the season.

“This is a fantastic club – the way they do things from top to bottom,” Johnson said. “If someone else can convince me there’s a better role out there, then I’ll look at it after the season.”

“At this point, I’m going to explore free agency. I might as well. Things can change quickly. But, straight up, I have no idea what I’m going to do next year.”

In the meantime, Johnson will do what he can to help his team to a title, which would also see him become the 28th player to win three MLS Cup titles and just the fifth to do it with three different teams, after lifting the trophy with Real Salt Lake in 2009 and the Portland Timbers in 2015. Toronto travel to face their archrivals, the Montreal Impact, in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship on Tuesday (8 pm ET; ESPN in the US, TSN1/3 and RDS in Canada), with the return leg in Toronto set for November 30. The winner of the aggregate goals series will move on to face the Western Conference champion in MLS Cup on December 10.