By Ivan Orozco
PASADENA, CA -- It is a moment you probably can’t find on Youtube.
Canada’s Will Johnson was pumping his fist in celebration after winning a corner kick in the dying stages of a World Cup qualifying match in Havana in June last year. A 10-man Canada was holding on to a 1-0 lead against Cuba when Johnson made the play that helped wind down the clock and preserve the win last year.
The play doesn’t immediately scream out spectacular but it could be the epitome of the type of player Johnson has become. The 26-year-old has proven to his teammates that he is a trustworthy, hard-working player. His guile and his rapidly increasing offensive output have made him a team leader. Johnson will wear the team captain arm band during the CONCACAF Gold Cup. His first match as captain will be Sunday when Canada takes on Martinique in Group A action at the Rose Bowl at 8 p.m. ET.
“It’s an honor,” Johnson said of becoming Canada’s captain.
Johnson is no stranger to the Gold Cup. This will be his third consecutive competition. He and his teammates are looking to bounce back from a rough outing during World Cup qualifying. Canada failed to reach the hexagonal round. Johnson and company will have to do it with a crop of young players, eight of them who will be looking to make their debut with the first team.
“We need to establish a new generation of players,” Johnson said. “There is a pool of young guys, they’ve gathered the greatest young talents that we have in the country and put them all together on a team to try to give them an opportunity and some experience for the future.”
And he has a message for his teammates.
“My message is always the same: no matter what we do, we always have to compete," Johnson said. "Just because we are young it doesn’t mean we can’t go out there and compete, fight and win. It all has to start with the right attitude. I take great pride in being a good pro and hopefully that carries over to some of the younger guys.”
Johnson tries to lead by example. He has proven to be a young experienced player, having played on Canada’s Under-20 and U-23 teams. He made his debut with the senior team in 2005. He has 33 caps and three goals, two of them coming in World Cup qualifiers against Saint Lucia and Cuba.
Johnson said he wants to have another shot at trying to help his team reach the World Cup. The Toronto native said that his days of playing in World Cup qualifiers were not over. For now, he plans to try and lead his Gold Cup teammates to favorable results.
He is no stranger to being a standout on the field while helping his club reach desired results. After he was traded by Real Salt Lake, Johnson has contributed to the Portland Timbers' growth within Major League Soccer this season a year after the team entered the league as an expansion franchise in 2012.
“I’ve landed in a great situation in Portland – a fantastic soccer city with fans that are second-to-none in North America,” said Johnson, who also is Portland’s captain.
Johnson said he is living a similar situation with Canada, a squad that is trying to set an identity as it tries to mesh younger players with a handful of veterans.
“We need to be able to blend those two pieces of Canadian identity,” Johnson said. “We need to fight and be hard to beat but we also have enough talent that it will come through and produce some results.”