SANDY, Utah — For the first time since he injured his shoulder in Portland's US Open Cup loss to Real Salt Lake on Aug. 7, Will Johnson will be on the field when his current team takes on his former team on Saturday night.
Since that USOC semifinal, the Timbers let three points slip away when RSL scored a 93rd-minute goal to salvage a 3-3 tie in Portland, and they suffered a 4-2 loss in Utah. But his former coach and teammates have enormous respect for the Timbers captain — an RSL fan favorite until he was traded to Portland 10 months ago.
“He leads by example,” RSL coach Jason Kreis told reporters on Tuesday. “He's the captain of their team for a very good reason. He covers as much or more ground as anybody on that field. He wins as many or more tackles as anybody on that field. He's involved in decisive plays as many times or more times than anybody on that field.
“He's an incredibly important player for them and somebody that we need to be mindful of.”
RSL defender Chris Wingert played alongside Johnson for five seasons, and he echoed Kreis' words about the Portland midfielder being the Timbers' “captain for a reason.”
“We know as well as anybody the impact he can have on the game,” Wingert said. “He's been having an outstanding year. It shows in their record and the stat sheet as well. And that doesn't even begin to explain the type of player he is because of his work ethic.”
RSL midfielder Ned Grabavoy, who played with Johnson for four years, pointed to the Timbers captain as “the guy that gives them that two-way presence in their three-man midfield,” who “kind of connects things from the back to the front. He's an important piece for them without question.”
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And, as much as they're familiar with Johnson, Real Salt Lake know Johnson is familiar with them.
“No doubt that he'll be gunning for us because he's a big-time competitor,” Wingert said.