Versatility has arguably always been one of the main assets of Will Johnson. Over his career, the experienced Canadian has shown the ability to perform well in different spots and it has not been different with Orlando City SC.
In 2018, the midfielder, one of only three players to be on the field for all 810 minutes Orlando has played so far, has spent 345 of those minutes playing as right back. At this point, it seems that what once was an emergency solution to react to injuries might become a full-time job for Johnson.
The Canadian first played as a right back this season against New York City FC as a result of a tactical change made by Head Coach Jason Kreis. He was dangerous in the spot and even fired a shot that hit the crossbar.
The experiment was repeated a few weeks later, against the Philadelphia Union, this time by need. When RJ Allen, who was replacing the injured Scott Sutter, also had to leave the field due to an injury, Kreis placed Johnson on the right, where he played well for over 60 minutes.
The team’s great moment, as it was in the midst of what now is a six-game winning streak, definitely persuaded the coach to keep Johnson in the lineup even after Allen, a natural right back, recovered from his injury, but is it the only reason for that decision?
A quick look on Johnson’s stats shows that it’s not the case. The Canadian has been solid in pretty much every aspect of the game and he seems to be able to compete for a starting spot as a right back even when Sutter, the presumed starter, is back in form.
Defensively, Johnson has proven to be an upgrade over both Sutter and Allen. He’s been considerably more efficient than the two right backs in both tackles (2.9, versus 0.8 and 0.6 for Sutter and Allen, respectively) and interceptions per game (1.4, versus 0.8 for both). In his three matches as starter, Johnson did a good job shutting down dangerous wingers such as Philadelphia Union’s David Accam and Real Salt Lake’s Joao Plata.
Offensively, Johnson is the only of the three to have scored a goal so far, while Sutter and Allen recorded one assist each. The Canadian, however, averages more passes per game (41.4) and has a higher passing accuracy (85.5) than both of his contenders.
Keeping players out of their original positions for long stretches is rarely a good idea, but Johnson has shown he’s up for the task and with an intense battle for spots happening in his original midfield spot, keeping him as a right back could be a win-win situation for both him and the Lions.