Last summer, Adrian Winter shocked fans throughout the city of Orlando when he mutually agreed with the club to terminate his contract in an effort to get back to his homeland of Switzerland due to family issues. It was an abrupt move that caught everybody by surprise midway through the season. Winter was a huge fan favorite in Orlando for his passion for the badge and massive late goals for the Lions.
Since then, Orlando City fans have been hoping that their Energizer Bunny of a player would someday return to don the purple once again. That day hasn’t happened, but in reality, it doesn’t need to — because Orlando City has finally found its answer to Winter’s departure, and his name is Will Johnson.
Winter’s impact on the team couldn’t be dictated so much by stats. He only scored three goals and assisted on one in nearly 1,000 minutes in 2016, and his passing percentage was sitting below the team average. Rather, his impact and presence on the field was often judged by his relentless attitude and ability to inject a spark of life into Orlando City’s squad while coming off the bench.
It was that same mentality that the Lions lacked after his departure, and I would be willing to argue it had much to do with the team’s performance down the stretch of 2016 and its struggles to break ties and have to settle for draws and one-point outings.
He left a void that couldn’t be filled by anybody else on the roster. Until now.
In the off-season, the Lions signed free agent midfielder Will Johnson, a grizzled MLS veteran and a guy who knows the ins and outs of the league and leaves it all on the field every time out.
"I think you know what you're going to get every week,” Johnson said following the 2-1 win over LA on Saturday. “Some guys in this league, they show up one week and then the next week they don't — they play better at home than on the road. For me, I'm Will Johnson. You get the same guy 34 weeks straight. I give it to you straight. I give you everything I've got. I'm not always the best player on the field, but every now and again I have a game like today. And you always get a lot of quality in terms of leadership, aggressiveness, and holding everybody accountable to a standard that represents this stadium, and represents this club the right way."
And Johnson has been very valuable to Head Coach Jason Kreis so far through the first five games of the season. The 30-year-old started at right back in each of the first three games while the Lions dealt with injury issues at the position, and now, back in the midfield, he scored his first goal of the year on Saturday while also adding his second assist on Cyle Larin’s game-winning, stoppage-time goal.
“You could see how quickly he wants to close things down and how much effort he’s willing to give, the capacity for the running is top, top level,” Kreis said of Johnson’s performance against the LA Galaxy. “And just a real sense of urgency when we’re under some stress. Those are the reasons why you bring a Will Johnson in and I think his attitude and his work rate are infectious.”
That’s exactly why you bring in a guy like Johnson, and he’s exactly the kind of guy that Orlando City needed to bring in.