BY MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.- While his team was dealing with a tough stretch of play that saw their longest losing streak of the season, Timbers captain Will Johnson was forced to watch his club from home for the last month. Out with a broken bone in his shoulder and therefore unable to rehab like most injuries, there was little the Canadian International could do but watch.
So when Johnson returned to the field, he was ready to lead the Timbers out of their mini-slump and back into the playoff hunt.
“It was a tough month for me, so I tried to play with a lot of emotion tonight and it was just good to get back out there,” Johnson said. “It felt a lot longer than four games I promise you that.”
Back in usual center midfield position, paired with Diego Chara, Johnson played like the player who was mentioned in MVP discussions earlier in the season. Johnson tallied a goal and helped Portland dominate the midfield against Toronto FC in Saturday night’s 4-0 victory at Jeld-Wen Field.
Playing for the first time since he sustained the shoulder injury in the U.S. Open Cup semifinal Aug. 7th, Johnson delivered an incredible statistical performance, completing 63 of his 67 pass attempts.
“Will Johnson was definitely a big piece that we were missing,” Rodney Wallace said. “He is one of our engines, he and Chara connect well in the middle and having Will back gives us a lot of security and a lot of support.”
The combination of Chara and Johnson has been a catalyst for the Timbers success this season. In the 19 matches where the pair has started, the club is 8-1-10, while they are just 2-4-2 when one of the two does not suit up.
“Diego is my partner in the middle of the field, we work well together, we read each other well and obviously, when we have a result like that, it’s fun to play together,” Johnson said.
Porter is quick to praise the combination that he has called his team’s “engine” throughout the season.
“They’re very destructive and dominant,” Porter said. “Games often times are won or lost in the heart of your team. These two guys, they get around.”
While Johnson and others put the ball into the back of the net Saturday, he is quick to point out how important Chara is to the Timbers, despite the Colombian’s lack of goals.
“Inside this locker room every guy respects Chara and knows how much he does for us,” Johnson said. “Obviously the guys who are scoring the goals usually get more of the pundits, but inside this locker room Diego’s a hero and he’s treated like one.”
After being named captain after being acquired from Real Salt Lake in the offseason, Johnson started the year on a tear, delivering a constant presence and more than one spectacular goal. Johnson’s season took a detour after starting the first 17 games of the season, when he missed three games due to international duty with Canada for the Gold Cup. Then after just three more games, Johnson sustained the shoulder injury.
Despite missing major time, Johnson has tallied seven goals, a far cry from his previous career high of three, while also adding three assists. Now as the Timbers face their final seven games of the season, Johnson is back to being healthy
“(The shoulder is) 100 percent, no pain,” Johnson said. “I wanted to make sure I was fully healed so I could be ready for this playoff push because every game is more important than the last one.”