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2019 Orlando City Season in Review: Will Johnson

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The veteran Lion played fewer minutes this season, but made a huge impact.

SOCCER: OCT 06 MLS - Chicago Fire at Orlando City SC Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It was quite the redemption year for Canadian midfielder Will Johnson. A much-maligned player a season ago, Johnson played in 28 of the 34 regular season matches in 2018, starting in 26 of them, and in all of the U.S. Open Cup matches. In the end, The Mane Land staff rated his overall 2018 performance a 5.

While his 2019 season wasn’t wildly productive offensively, Orlando City got the consistent defensive-minded Johnson it needed any time he was on the pitch. So how did he do in 2019?

Statistical Breakdown

Johnson played in 21 matches this season (starting 20) totaling 1,698 minutes of regular season play. For the season he had one goal, one assist, averaged 1.3 shots per game, 0.6 key passes and 0.6 dribbles per game, with an average pass success rate at 87%. He took 28 shots in 2019, but got only six of them on goal. Defensively, he averaged 2.1 tackles, one interception, 2.4 clearances, and 0.3 blocks per game. Johnson also played 210 minutes over two matches in the U.S. Open Cup, including extra time against NYCFC, and was called up for multiple national team games for Canada.

Best Game

Picking a “best game” for Johnson was difficult when The Mane Land staff named him Man of the Match four times this season. One could be tempted to make it the 2-0 win over FC Dallas at home on Aug. 3, where Johnson was everywhere, made good passes, and contributed on both sides of the field, narrowly missing another MotM title for creating chances, a 94% pass accuracy, chipped in a tackle, had an interception, and two clearances.

Maybe you thought I was going to say it was his performance in the 3-1 loss to Philadelphia on July 3 (you know this match, the one where a nine-man Orlando City fell to pieces) when WillJo led the team in tackles and key passes, had a 98% passing accuracy, and refused to give up during the unwinnable match.

While both were amazing performances to watch, I’m going with his performance June 1 in the 3-0 win over the Montreal Impact. Listen, goals are fun and his was exceptionally fun as he dove for the header and ended up in a penguin slide while the ball found its way to the back of the net. All this after one of the most beautiful team efforts that led to the goal.

Johnson received a lofty 8.5 rating for the game from our bearded guy, after a performance in which he fired two shots (including the goal), passed at 83%, created one scoring chance, and made four tackles, two interceptions, and a clearance. It was a complete game for the veteran midfielder.

2019 Final Grade

He played fewer matches and minutes than last season, but his impact felt greater as his reliable, and never ending hustle helped keep supporters in it. The Mane Land staff voted to unanimously on a 6.5 overall score for Johnson’s 2019 season with the Lions. While he left too many shots agonizingly wide of goal, his desire and effort never wavered and he played a much more complete and comfortable all-around game in 2019 than a year ago.

2020 Outlook

My prediction is that Johnson returns for another season with the Lions. Yes, he’s the team’s seventh-highest paid player, and he missed time with injuries this season, but he puts it all on the field every match, and just when you think he can’t possibly run anymore, he sprints to the ball and isn’t afraid to take a shot. I’m the first to admit that I was not the biggest fan of WillJo, but this season has changed my mind and I hope to see him back in purple next season. Of course, to remain in Orlando he might be asked to take a pay cut and much depends upon who is hired as the next head coach and how they feel about the Canadian.


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