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Our City: Why Will Johnson is Still Starting

As this pitiful season slowly grinds to an end, some supporters are ready to play the kids and leave the likes of Will Johnson on the sidelines.

MLS: Seattle Sounders at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A few weeks back, our fearless editor mentioned in passing that I hadn’t written anything about the first team in a while. He’s right, I unintentionally have avoided trying to prescribe or prosecute the Orlando City first team, knowing social media and the stands were full of significant commentary on the club’s struggles.

With my reservations close at hand, I’ve been thinking a lot about two key comments I’ve seen from a significant segment of the Orlando City support. The paired issues of why is Will Johnson still starting and why isn’t Josué Colmán in the first 11? On the surface these are legitimate questions. As the club’s struggles, Johnson has been in the starting lineup for 25 and appearing in 27 of the club’s 32 games, only producing a goal and an assist.

Meanwhile, Colmán, has had 10 starts and 23 appearances, tallying one goal and five assists. On the surface, it would seem Colmán, a Young Designated Player, would be a candidate for the starting 11 as the club has now crashed out of the playoff picture. The thinking being to give the young player a chance to improve and develop with the first team. When given the chance, Colmán has felt like a new source of energy for an often-languishing attack. Johnson on the other hand has been a key part of that misfiring attack and seems unable to contribute to changing the club’s fortunes.

So why has James O’Connor seemed to stick with Johnson? Without talking to the manager or the player, I can only speculate. After attempting to consider my prejudices towards players and opinions, I’ve wondered if Johnson’s inclusion in eight of the last 10 games is about JOC trying to find stability within the side. Johnson is one of the veterans on the side, and one of the healthier ones this season. As the club tries to right the ship, stability has to be a key part of that.

At the same time, the long string of poor results can damage team morale. Many supporters have suggested that O’Connor should let Colmán and other players prove their worth with a long run in the non-playoff club’s starting lineup. Theoretically, it of course makes sense, but could an extended run for a team with awful form work against or even poison the confidence of a young player?

It is impossible to know exactly what is on O’Connor’s mind as he finishes out this season, but my guess is a combination of damage control and trying to stabilize the club. Our ambitions might lead us to think of using these last few games as a springboard for next season. Unfortunately, with the run that the club is on right now, that might be a large ask.

It is almost impossible for us as supporters and fans to know exactly what is going on, and going wrong with, the club from the outside. That stated, you can’t go through a season like this with the losses, the injuries, the inconsistent availability of players, the firing of a coach, the selling off of a disgruntled player, and achieving notoriety of having the worst defense in MLS history without a bit of psychological fatigue.

The players, despite everything they say in the media, have to be eager to put this season behind them and move on. They have to wonder with Orlando’s eagerness to flip rosters if they will have jobs next year or be moving on. They must have doubts about what part of this disappointing season rests on their shoulders.

With everything that has transpired this season and the tough short road left, I see the sensibility of starting a player like Johnson whose confidence seemingly always has overrode natural ability. Letting a veteran player finish this season to its short bitter end and keeping the future to limited minutes for development could prove a solid move in the long run, if this team can ever get this back on the tracks.