TORONTO – When Canada take to the pitch in Honduras on Friday for their most significant match since October 2012, they will do so without one of their most influential, tenacious midfielders.
Toronto FC's Will Johnson was left off of the squad called by coach Benito Floro, despite featuring for nearly every minute thus far in the Fourth Round of CONCACAF's qualification for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Canada's progression to the Hexagonal round, a stage they haven't reach since the 1998 cycle, sits delicately poised, behind Honduras on goal differential, with two matches remaining. The result on Friday (5 pm ET, TSN) will go a long way towards determining which of the two will join Mexico in advancing from Group A.
Johnson did suffer a broken bone in his leg – a tibial plateau fracture – in the most dramatic of fashions back in June, scoring the stoppage-time goal that saw TFC lift the Voyageurs Cup, but has since made his return to the Toronto lineup, playing 176 minutes in three matches over the past week.
Johnson isn't the first Toronto FC player to be overlooked by Floro, with midfielder Jonathan Osorio remaining outside national team plans despite seeing regular playing time for his club this summer.
When the Canada squad was announced on Aug. 25, Johnson's name was a stark omission.
“I was told, by Benito's staff, that I wasn't fit enough to go down there and perform at the level that they needed,” said Johnson from TFC training on Tuesday. “I was disappointed. I disagreed with the decision.”
“No [they didn't explain why they thought I wasn't fit]; just said 'I wasn't fit'. That was it, there was no explanation,” continued Johnson. “That's where I disagree. I think I'm fit, I think I can play; they don't and so that's it”.
“I feel great,” added Johnson. “But ultimately Benito picks the best 23 players that he thinks can get the job done. For whatever reason, I wasn't picked.”
The pressures of the situation bring up uncomfortable memories for the Canadians. That 2012 encounter with Honduras saw the side, which only needed a draw to move on, crumble, falling 8-1. It was a defeat that has since haunted the collective conscious of the Canadian soccer-loving faithful.
They, like Johnson, were shocked by the decision.
“Surprise for sure, bitterness no,” admitted Johnson. “Those guys are my teammates, friends, colleagues, brothers. I wish them nothing but the best; I wish I was down there with them. After taking a few days, I've kind of gotten over it. Now I get to watch like all of us and hope and pray they get the result.”
Floro previously alluded to Johnson's injury as the primary culprit for his absence when speaking earlier this week, but Johnson revealed there was no contact between the two ahead of the decision.
“I never spoke to Benito. It was 100 percent his decision. I'd never turn down a World Cup qualifier invitation," declared Johnson. "I wanted to go down to Honduras and help the guys. You get injured at times and they think, coming off the injury, they have guys that are better prepared to go down there and get the result than I am in my current physical condition.”
“If it was up to me I'd be on that flight.”