On Friday morning, what was long rumored became official: The Portland Timbers traded away Will Johnson. The 28 year old, who was named Timbers captain in 2013, is off to Toronto FC in exchange for a conditional second round pick in the 2017 MLS draft, and targeted allocation money.
In many ways, Johnson was a surprising catalyst for and unfortunate causality of Portland's championship run. In different stages of recovery all year from a broken leg suffered at the end of the 2014 season, Johnson only played in twelve games and was squeezed out of the lineup down the stretch by the Timbers' formation change and the ascension of Jack Jewsbury.
It was a tough pill to swallow. After pouring his heart and soul into building the character and culture of the club in 2013 and '14, Johnson found himself watching the team he once led with such aplomb went to and won MLS Cup without him.
Johnson makes far too much money and has far too much talent to sit on the bench, and he Timbers' switch to a setup that only accommodates one central midfielder — Diego Chara — made his departure unavoidable.
This move had been in the works for weeks leading up to its completion, and it's a move that makes a ton of sense for all parties involved.
For the player, it's a homecoming of sorts — Johnson was born in Toronto, and plays for the Canadian national team. What's more, one of his best friends in soccer is Toronto and US national team captain Michael Bradley. The two played together growing up in Chicago, and then were teammates again in the from 2006 through 2008 with Dutch club Heerenveen.
In Toronto, Johnson gets a new project to sink his teeth into. Though he won't be front and center with his new club like he was in Portland, TFC has as much to gain from Johnson's winning mentality and competitive fire as any club in the league.
In many ways, Toronto is a sleeping giant. The club has strong support, plenty of money, and some outstanding talent, but its underachieved for the better part of a decade because it hasn't had players with the knowhow and will to win consistently in MLS.
Johnson will bring that, as will new singings Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour — and all three make TFC a contender to win MLS Cup in 2016.
Where exactly Johnson fits on the field is a little less clear — though the best guess has him running box-to-box alongside Bradley — but as anyone in the Timbers organization will tell you, his presence will be invaluable.
Portland deserves plenty of credit here too. The Timbers handled this situation with grace and class, letting Johnson dictate where he wanted to go and getting a deal done to meet his needs. They got plenty out of it too — the targeted allocation money will be useful, and that second round pick in 2017 could become a first round pick if Johnson meets certain performance goals in Toronto.
Johnson's health is the big question, and the reason the Timbers couldn't demand an outright first round pick for his services. At his best, Johnson dynamo in the middle of the park — but his ability to cover ground was somewhat hampered this year as he never truly reached full fitness.
He claims he's back to 100% though, and he's not the kind of player who it's wise to doubt. Johnson is a good soccer player, no doubt, but his drive has always set him apart. He'll be itching to prove himself again in 2016 and deliver for a city that is starved for sporting success.
In his statement this morning, Johnson called his time in Portland "a dream." This and this club meant an awful lot to him, and although he leaves with nothing but well wishes, the end of a dream situation is always painful. But Johnson's time in Portland ends about as well as it could have — he exits as a champion, ready to embark on a new journey that may be equally as exciting.