Much of Orlando City SC’s roster overhaul leading to the 2018 MLS season was centered in the midfield positions. Relevant players from previous seasons, such as Kaká, Antonio Nocerino, and Servando Carrasco, left the club while big names as Justin Meram, Sacha Kljestan, Josué Colmán and Oriol Rosell took the opposite route and moved to Florida.
In the midst of all these moves, some players who were already part of the roster saw their futures with the Lions become uncertain. One of them was Will Johnson, one of only eight players on the team to be on the field for at least 2,000 minutes in 2017.
Against the Canadian were the heavy competition for the starting spots in center midfield, with Rosell, Yoshimar Yotún, Cristian Higuita, Richie Laryea, Cam Lindley and Dillon Powers all in contention, and the off-the-field issues that led him to be arrested last September.
Johnson was eventually brought back in 2018, switched his jersey number from eight to four, and needed only three matches to prove his value. The 31-year-old veteran was one of the few bits of good news for the Lions in the first three weeks of the season.
For starters, Johnson is one of only six players to be in the field for all 270 minutes the Lions competed so far in 2018. With the team missing several important pieces early in the season, the veteran’s consistency has been crucial to fill holes in the lineup.
The Canadian’s versatility has also been on display over the last few weeks. Primarily used as a midfielder, Johnson played the final minutes of last Saturday’s match against New York City FC in the right back position and he was dangerous from that spot, hitting the crossbar.
Johnson’s numbers also show how efficient he has been at the start of the season. According to WhoScored.com, the midfielder ranks third among his teammates in passing accuracy (84.3%) and is in the top five in clearances (2), tackles (1.7) and interceptions (1) per game, considering players who were on the field for at least 90 minutes.
And don’t discount the value of his experience. With 12 MLS seasons, more than 250 matches and two MLS Cups under his belt, he was the one to have clever and reassuring words after the team’s defeat last weekend.
“The pressure is on, every game is important now,” he said after the match. “We are obviously removed from the rest of the conference eight points now, so there is no more margin for error. It’s time to get some wins on the board.”
Only time will tell if Johnson will retain his starting role when all the newcomers are cleared to play, but the veteran has taken advantage of the opportunities to show he can be a useful piece of the roster in the long run.