TORONTO — Portland Timbers captain Will Johnson capped off a career year Thursday by being named Canada’s male soccer player of the year.
The Toronto-born midfielder was voted to the MLS All-Star Fan XI team and named to Major League’ Soccer Best XI after leading the Timbers to a first-place finish in MLS’s Western Conference with a 14-5-15 record.
In his first year in the Pacific Northwest after five seasons with Real Salt Lake, the 26-year-old set MLS career marks in goals (9), assists (5), points (23) and minutes played (5,250). He played the full 90 minutes in all 28 regular-season appearances.
Johnson called it a year "of coming into my own."
"I loved having that responsibility of leading this group," he said of being given the captain’s armband by coach Caleb Porter. "It was a welcomed challenge for me, something I just really got excited about and it just gave me a passion to excel and take my game to the next level."
Johnson’s hard-nosed play and leadership won admirers around the league, with Toronto FC casting envious eyes at him during the season.
He is the 14th winner of the award and the third from MLS ranks, following Dwayne De Rosario and Pat Onstad.
Atiba Hutchinson was runner-up in voting by Canadian media, coaches and clubs. Midfielders Patrice Bernier of the Montreal Impact and Russell Teibert of the Vancouver Whitecaps were third and fourth, respectively.
On the national team front, Johnson was part of Canada’s CONCACAF Gold Cup squad but was sent home early due to illness. He had one assist in three appearances for Canada, with club duties restricting his time with the national team.
Johnson said he looks forward to spending more time with the Canadian team, which is in a period of transition under new coach Benito Flores.
Born to English parents, Johnson holds Canadian, American and English citizenship. He moved to England as an infant and then came to the Chicago area at the age of 10.
After spending 2005 with the Chicago Fire, he went to Europe where he played for Heerenveen and De Graafschap in the Netherlands.
Johnson says he is enjoying Portland and MLS but would be open to the right opportunity.
"I’d love to stay here, I’m very happy here but I’m not tied down here for too long so we’ll see," he told a media conference call.
"I do feel I have the quality to play in Europe but I also have a young family now." he added. "It has to be the right situation. Going to Scandinavia does not interest me. Top leagues in Europe would interest me but other than that, at my age with a young family, MLS is a great league. I very much enjoy playing here, I enjoy being an ambassador for the league. I love being part of the growth of this league.
"So it would have to be something very special to entice me to leave a league I very much enjoy playing in."
After beating archrival Seattle, Portland lost to Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference final. Real Salt Lake also ousted the Timbers in the semifinal of the U.S. Open Cup.
"We’ve got to take that next step now," Johnson said of Portland. "We set the platform and the minimum requirements that we all expect out of ourselves. I think that hunger will translate over to next year.
"On a positive note, we now have guys who have played in the playoffs, have won a playoff series, have experienced what it’s like to get in there … This will not be an acceptable season next year, that’s for sure. The bar’s been set."
Canada’s female player of the year will be announced Friday with national team captain Christine Sinclair a favourite to claim the award for a 10th straight year and 11th overall.
Dylan Carreiro and Kadeisha Buchanan were earlier named under-20 players of the year.
Marco Carducci and Sura Yekka took under-17 honours.
The awards are sponsored by BMO.