Will Johnson-Timbers

Correlation or causation? Will Johnson’s near a lot of recent trouble


Fans were talking about it after Sunday’s Osvaldo Alonso incident, so it’s probably worth a few words here: Where Will Johnson goes, trouble seems to follow. The question is whether the Portland Timbers’ captain is doing anything to bring out the worst in people. And if so, what?

If we narrow the scope to the 12 months, our trio of incidents starts last November, back when the Canadian international was still playing for Real Salt Lake.  That’s when he was the target of a homophobic slur from Seattle defender Marc Burch, who was subsequently suspended by Major League Soccer.

Earlier this season at JELD-WEN, Johnson was the target of that same slur from San Jose Earthquakes’ forward Alan Gordon, in response to which Johnson held up three fingers. Having been through this before, the veteran midfielder knew how many games Gordon would get when punishment came down from the league office.

On Sunday, video shows Johnson saying something to Osvaldo Alonso before the Seattle destroyer threw the elbow that saw him dismissed, though Johnson couldn’t remember what.

“I don’t know,” Johnson said, when asked about what he said to Alonso to draw the red card-worthy elbow. “We were just going at it. Both guys just saying things. Then it happened.”

That “it” saw Alonso dismissed in the 76th minute, but only after a brief period of chaos in Portland. We’re still waiting for final word from New York, but odds are Alonso will miss more than the obligatory game.

Asked for his thoughts after the match, Sigi Schmid didn’t forgive Alonso’s lack of control. (“He’s a veteran player. He needs to do better.”) He also didn’t hesitate to point the finger.

“All I can tell you is whenever things happen, Will Johnson always seems to be at the other end of things,” Schmid told the assembled media after Sunday’s game. “I don’t know what he says, what he does to instigate things, but obviously Ossie has to control his behavior.”

Before we can undertake any discussion of Johnson, that last part needs to be reiterated. Alonso, Gordon, and Burch were all in the wrong. In all likelihood, Johnson is doing something to get under their skin, but as professional athletes, they owe it to themselves and their teams not to get baited into such things. They can’t make it so easy for an opponent to do this.

But it’s becoming less and less likely that Johnson’s just some innocent party here. If Schmid’s intimation is correct, he may actually be an accessory – a Bill Laimbeer-esque presence, willing to do what it takes to draw the worst out of his opponent.

This isn’t quite Steven Lenhart land, but there is something strange going on. But since none of Burch, Gordon, or Alonso have provided details, it’s impossible to tell. Perhaps Johnson’s provocations have been so innocent that details would make the offenders’ actions even less explicable. Or, maybe Johnson’s benefitting from a type of “what happens on the field” agreement others don’t feel like violating. Or, maybe Johnson is perfectly innocent and this is just coincidence. We should keep that option open.

Regardless, after Sunday’s incident, Johnson was given a chance to provide his view. What, I asked, does he say to people who look at the Burch, Gordon, and Alonso incidents and want to see a pattern?

“I’ve got an army behind me,” Johnson said, referring to the Timbers’ fans. “I don’t need to say anything.”

Perhaps not, but that won’t answer any questions as to what’s drawing these responses out of Johnson’s opponents.

MLS Cup Playoffs: LA Galaxy 3-1 Real Salt Lake (video)

Los Angeles Galaxy defender Jelle Van Damme (37) congratulates forward Alan Gordon (9) for scoring against the Real Salt Lake during the first half of a knockout round MLS playoff soccer match in Carson, Calif., Wednesday, Oct. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
AP Photo/Alex Gallardo
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy are through to the conference semifinals of the MLS Cup Playoffs, where they’ll take on the Colorado Rapids beginning Sunday, for the seventh time in eight years with a 3-1 knockout-round triumph over Real Salt Lake at the StubHub Center on Wednesday. Alan Gordon put the home side ahead inside the first quarter-hour before RSL drew level seven minutes later, but Emmanuel Boateng bagged a quickfire brace to complete a pair of brilliant individual exhibitions of dribbling inside the penalty area. With Steven Gerrard unavailable and Robbie Keane only fit to feature off the bench, Bruce Arena turned to Gordon, who gave way to Keane early in the second half after picking up an injury of his own, to play the fulcrum of the Galaxy attack, and it worked to near-perfection during the opening half-hour. Landon Donovan started the game and played 87 minutes, providing the kind of defensive work rate that’s been missing up and down the flanks of LA all season. Sebastian Lletget put in a near-flawless passing performance while playing deep in midfield. Don’t look now, but those are the Galaxy’s biggest question of 2016, all just about answered as the playoffs begin. I won’t say, “I told you so” if/when they win MLS Cup 2016, but…

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

14′ — Gordon finishes from close range for 1-0 — Landon Donovan -> Giovani dos Santos -> Alan Gordon. Just like Bruce Arena drew it up in preseason midseason last month this week this morning.

21′ — Plata converts from the spot after Morales’ dive — Javier Morales was angling for a penalty from the moment he entered the penalty area. All Emmanuel Boateng had to do was look at him, and Morales was going down.

26′ — Boateng weaves through to make it 2-1 — Left. Right. Left. Right. Left. Boateng took advantage of some poor defending, and the Galaxy were back in the lead.

34′ — Boateng cuts inside, blows past his man, makes it 3-1 — There’s playing in top gear, and there’s having an extra gear that you rarely have to use because no one else on the field has it. Boateng falls into the latter category.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Emmanuel Boateng

Goalscorers: Gordon (14′), Plata (21′), Boateng (26′, 34′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: Toronto FC 3-1 Philadelphia Union (video)

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): 10 years later, Toronto FC are MLS Cup Playoffs victors. For eight seasons, the playoffs eluded them altogether. Last year, they were one-and-done in embarrassing fashion at the hands of their local rivals. In 2016, it was  their year — a proclamation we’d heard plenty times before — and so far, they’ve lived up to the hype. Wednesday’s 3-1 home victory over the Philadelphia Union in the knockout round gets the monkey off the Reds’ back, but more importantly, afforded Sebastian Giovinco, who bagged a goal and an assist on the night (his second straight game with such a line), 90 more minutes of game time after missing more than a month through injuries as the regular season wound down. After 270 minutes of action, the Atomic Ant looks sharp as ever, and destined to terrorize New York City FC, whom TFC will face in the conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

15′ — Atlidore feeds Giovinco for 1-0 — The first playoff goal in TFC’s 10-year history. Poor goalkeeping, ball-watching defending, terrible touches, an overhead cross, and a strike off the crossbar. There’s a lot going on here. Watch it all right here.

49′ — Osorio slams home from the corner for 2-0 — The Union have been bad at defending set pieces all season, so is it at all surprising a set-piece gaffe effectively ended their season? No, it’s not.

73′ — Bedoya puts the loose ball home for 2-1 — Speaking of failing to effectively clear a corner kick, the Union were gifted a lifeline 15 minutes before full-time.

85′ — Altidore puts it out of reach, seals it for TFC — Ken Tribbet did not have the best night a center back has ever seen. His final blunder resulted in Jozy Altidore reclaiming TFC’s two-goal lead, and ending the Union’s 2016 season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Giovinco (15′), Osorio (49′), Bedoya (73′), Altidore (85′)

Men In Blazers podcast: Mourinho’s Chelsea return; Bradley’s 1st point

Men In Blazers
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Rog and Davo break down Jose Mourinho’s return to Chelsea with Manchester United, another stumble for Manchester City and Bob Bradley’s first Premier League point.

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VIDEO: Altidore, Giovinco combine for TFC’s first-ever playoff goal

Sebastian Giovinco
Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP
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It’s been 10 years in the making, and Toronto FC finally have their first-ever goal in the MLS Cup Playoffs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

After failing to qualify for the playoffs in each of their first eight seasons, 2015 saw the Reds venture into the postseason for the first time ever, only to be thumped in the knockout round, 3-0, by their 401 derby rival Montreal Impact, of all sides.

This is the year, though, or so we’ve said and been told all season long. While it remains to be seen how deep of a run TFC can muster in 2016, they’ll always have the Jozy Altidore‘s terrible first touch; Altidore’s wayward second and third touches; Altidore’s overhead cross; and Sebastian Giovinco’s strike, all of which you can watch in all its hilarity glory below.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Playoffs edition | MLS Cup predictions ]