Will Johnson has spoken many times in the past couple years on PTFC about the high expectations he has for himself, and the ones he knows Caleb Porter has for him. I think he's also well aware of the high expectations that Timbers supporters have for him. And think we can all collectively agree that this has not been his best season.
So I'm not surprised when supporters are frustrated with him and they show it. I have no problem with that. I also have no problem with Will Johnson expressing his disappointment in himself and the performance of the Timbers this season.
As members of the Timbers Army can attest, morale can sometimes mean everything. There's a reason it's important to us to have an intimidating atmosphere at home. There's a reason we encourage each other to stand up and chant louder when things seem hopeless. We've had tifo that said "Belief Beyond Reason". These things aren't just lip service; for a lot of us, including me, sometimes these things can make or break a match.
There's been a lot of talk on social media from supporters about Will Johnson's attitude. There's been talk of tantrums and yelling at fellow teammates. There's been talk of sitting him for a match and even some want to take the armband from him. It seems his behavior rubs a lot of people the wrong way, and I understand why. However, as someone who feels strongly and unabashedly; as someone who is so filled with passion that even when I try to keep a poker face, I lose, I can't fault him.
I only say all this because I want to point out that there can be more than one way to look at things. While some may see a lack of maturity, some of us see a level of passion and perfectionism that is rare in this game. Some of us don't subscribe to the "never stoop" ideology where you appear to remain unphased (and therefore "mature") when the things you care the most about are blocked from you. Some of us see ourselves reflected in his joy and his anger and his stubborn commitment to push to the very end, regardless of how hopeless things may seem. And the fact is, for me, the more people try to throw him under the bus, the more I appreciate and respect him. He is utterly undeterred, regardless of the circumstances and that speaks to me. It reflects how I feel about this club.
And as someone who really believes in the "magic beyond reason", I've found the idea of removing his passion and dedication from the pitch downright offensive. Maybe it's because I feel as though I can see the other side, the "mature" side, but that side is so busy being concerned with looking good and "mature" that they're blind to the value of the passion and morale and energy Will Johnson brings to the team. Maybe.
In the Open Cup match today, those I've been debating with got their wish and Will Johnson started on the bench.
We all know how that match went, so if you're still reading this, you know what happened.
But I want to argue that the dynamic and energy on the pitch changed when Will Johnson was brought on. I can't help but feel that he brought a sense of urgency and electricity that helped the team get their hard earned point. Maybe it's because of my bias toward the method of his madness, but I don't think we would have had the chances we created in the last half without him on the pitch.
So I just want to say that maybe some of us have had extraordinarily high expectations of him and maybe he deserves some slack. And when I say slack, I simply mean not throwing around the idea of sitting him or taking his armband as some simple solution to all the Timbers problems.
Maybe some of us have viewed his behavior as petulance when it may be what the team needs to get motivated when all seems lost. Maybe some of us are just so frustrated with the performance of the team that we need a scapegoat, and with an armband, it's easy to be that guy. As I said before, he hasn't had the best season, but from my view, it's a performance issue and not an attitude issue. And it would be nice, maybe after this experiment, if we could possibly entertain the idea that what some people see in him as a problem may sometimes actually be a solution.