With Major League Soccer’s 2017 season about to conclude its first month, Orlando City SC will finally have a true right back available during Saturday’s match against Columbus Crew SC, as both newcomer Scott Sutter and veteran Kevin Alston will be eligible for selection for the first time this year.
Regardless of who Head Coach Jason Kreis picks for the starting right back role, the change will have a secondary impact on the Lions’ formation if/when midfielder Will Johnson, one of the team’s most hyped off-season acquisitions, will ultimately be able to play in his natural position and step up to the role he is expected to bolster.
The 30-year-old Johnson is expected to pair with Antonio Nocerino in the center of the Lions’ midfield. Servando Carrasco did a good job in the club’s first two matches, but the Canadian and the Italian have the potential to become one of the best midfield duos in the league, thanks to their experience and skill.
Johnson is a workhorse and averages over two tackles, 1.3 interceptions and 1.4 clearances per game since 2013, excluding the 2016 season, when he spent much of the season on Toronto FC’s bench. His defensive efforts and skills could be extremely valuable against a Crew SC team that showed a good offensive punch over the last two matches, scoring five goals.
But the Canadian veteran can also help on the other side of the ball. With an 84.4% passing accuracy rate over his MLS career, Johnson has the ability to initiate plays and control the pace of the game in the middle of the field. Having Nocerino — another 80+% passer over of the course of his career — on his side allows the team to count on at least one of them to control the possession, help in transition, and connect to the front players.
Another interesting resource that Johnson brings to the field is his leadership — it is no surprise that he inherited the team’s armband in Kaká’s absence. Playing in a more central role, he finds himself in a better position to encourage, command, and instruct his teammates, making them perform even better than they did in the first two home matches.
Johnson was brought to Orlando City to be a starter on Jason Kreis’ team. The coach used the Canadian as the backbone on his Real Salt Lake squad that won the 2009 MLS Cup and certainly plans on giving the box-to-box midfielder a key role in the Lions’ 2017 campaign. Against Crew SC, we may be able to see for the first time what he is capable of doing in his preferred midfield position.