Will Johnson claims the honour after an excellent season at the club level, where he thrived with the Portland Timbers after moving from Real Salt Lake.Toronto-born Will Johnson is Canada's male player of the year for 2013, and he credits his move to the Portland Timbers from Real Salt Lake as the main reason for his best year as an individual.
Before heading to the Pacific Northwest, Johnson was a cog in the well-oiled Jason Kreis-led Salt Lake machine. The midfielder was important to the squad, but this season with the Timbers after making the move, the 26-year-old has upped his game to new levels.
He captains the side, and when it came playoff time, he bagged two goals and an assist in four matches. Johnson set career highs during the season as well, notching nine goals and five assists – elite numbers for a midfield player.
"I loved having that responsibility of leading this group," Johnson said of Portland coach Caleb Porter giving him the armband during a conference call with reporters on Thursday. "It was a welcome 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 becomes the 14th player to receive this honour, and in claiming it beat out nominees Atiba Hutchinson, Patrice Bernier and Russell Teibert (listed in order of votes received).
Canadian clubs, media and coaches all participate in the voting process.
Interestingly, Johnson did not figure much for Canada in what was a dire winless year for the national men's program. He played just three times, picking up an assist. Notably, Johnson was sent home early from the Gold Cup due to picking up a bug, and then Portland's playoff run meant he was unable to link up with the national team more recently.
Just as he's taken up a leadership role at the club level, Johnson said he's happy to embrace that responsibility for his country if asked. He wore the armband in his lone game at the Gold Cup before illness cut his tournament short.
“It’s been fun to give young guys advice and to help them out a bit,” said Johnson. “I do look forward to the opportunity, whether I’m a captain or just a veteran player, to help these younger players out.”
As for what's next, Johnson insists he's happy in Major League Soccer with Portland, but when asked directly about playing in Europe again down the line, he remained open to the possibility – if the circumstances are right.
"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 said. "I do feel I have the quality to play in Europe but I also have a young family now...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."
As for the women's honour, the Canadian Soccer Association will reveal the winner on Friday, with captain Christine Sinclair all but certain to claim the award, one day after receiving her 200th cap for the national team.
“It’s an award that very few players ever get on an international level, so it’s something I’m very proud of,” Johnson said. “I also think it sets a platform for me to go on and achieve greater things with the national team.”