PORTLAND, Ore. – If there’s any doubt about what’s behind the Portland Timbers' offseason roster transformation, just talk to Will Johnson and Michael Harrington for a few minutes.
Two different players, from two different successful MLS clubs, one common identity: professionalism, toughness, winning mentality and even a bit of attitude.
“Really to me, it seems like they have some very talented players,” said Harrington, who was acquired from Kansas City on Dec. 3 on a busy day for the Timbers front office that also included the addition Johnson. "They have a lot of good pieces, but it sounded like to me that they were maybe just missing the attitude and the mentality that they needed to be successful."
“They brought in a couple veteran guys like myself and Will Johnson, guys who have been around and been around successful teams and been in successful locker rooms and kind of know what it takes to win in this league. So it sounds to me like this year is all about bringing those pieces together and winning.”
WATCH: Johnson's 2008 Goal of the Year
A tougher, more seasoned group is what general manager Gavin Wilkinson has been talking about since the offseason started.
“It’s finding a balance and it’s figuring out a way to win as a team that’s going to be a challenge,” said Johnson, a versatile, six-year veteran midfielder prize from RSL in return for allocation money. “There’s no doubt the talent on that roster is there, but talent is such a small part of winning in MLS games. It’s hardly even worth talking about. It’s more about teamwork and hard work and those kinds of things, those things get you results in MLS.”
Harrington, a fullback who has spent his six years in MLS with KC, echoed Johnson’s assessment.
“That’s one those things I’ve learned being in this league, it’s not all about talent,” Harrington said. “It’s about more than that. It’s about the intangibles and bringing a certain mentality to work every day, not just in games but in training.”
Johnson said the ability to win on the road, something Portland has done just three times in their first two seasons in MLS, is the perfect trait of a hard-working team. SKC and RSL combined for 14 road wins last season.
“I think you need guys who are willing to roll up their sleeves a little bit and go on the road and know they’re not going to enjoy it as much as playing at JELD-WEN, but know it’s equally important to get results on the road as it is at home,” Johnson said. “It’s a very, very difficult challenge to go on the road and win in this league, no matter what the talent or the quality level of your team is. But it can be done, and it just involves a unique mentality, one that can be learned by experience of winning road games in this league.”
Both players said they are looking forward to getting to the Rose City after the holidays and getting right to work in remaking the Timbers.
“It’s contagious when you do it the right way, when you see guys working hard,” Johnson said.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at email@example.com