ORLANDO, Fla. – If there was one thing Orlando City lacked in their first two years in MLS, it was a league veteran with savvy at the heart of midfield. If there is one thing Will Johnson is promising to bring to the Lions this year, it is that very commodity.
Johnson is itching to get to grips with his new task after signing with Orlando City as a free agent in December. In fact, it is the challenge of leading the club into the playoffs for the first time that was essential in luring him away from Toronto after just a year with the Reds, and he sees Orlando as a great opportunity to pick up where he left off with ex-Real Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis.
“I was very comfortable in Toronto but [Kreis'] relationship with me and how he treated me in the past came back and paid dividends for me to want to help him with this project,” Johnson said. “The new stadium was a huge selling point – that can’t be understated – but so was the challenge of this club and being a part of its progression.
“Coach Kreis is a guy I know, a guy I trust, and I guy I work well with. He pushes people in a positive way to get the best out of them, so I’m excited to be part of his project. He is a guy I have a great deal of respect for and, for him to bring me here and believe in me, that means a lot to me. This is an opportunity to show him I am all in, that I am right there next to him to try to turn this club into a playoff-type club, and that is something that excites both of us.”
Johnson is also motivated by the prospect of getting back to what he does best on the field: being the midfield spark-plug that energizes a team.
“I want a coach that believes in my skill-set and understands I’m a good midfielder in this league when utilized in the right way,” he said. “Being able to get box-to-box, being able to get around the field and use my qualities with a coach that knows how to bring out the best in me, which is very appealing.”
With two MLS Cups already under his belt, plus last year’s run with Toronto to the championship game, Johnson knows he will be expected to set the example when it comes to developing a playoff mentality, and infuse it among his new teammates.
“It’s a process, it’s the, ‘Every day matters,’ mentality,” he said. “Even in preseason there are no days off. If you want to get in the playoffs, if you want to be an elite team, you have to act like it and hold each other accountable to a standard that, candidly, teams that succeed achieve.
“Teams that miss the playoffs are usually missing something, so I plan to bring an accountability inside the locker room, a bite to training from Day One. We will work and get things right and put more time into these sessions, sacrifice and execute in a way that hasn’t been done in the past."