Philadelphia Union: Could Will Johnson be a Target?

Jun 25, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Toronto FC forward Will Johnson (7) dribbles the ball against the Orlando City SC during the first half at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 25, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA; Toronto FC forward Will Johnson (7) dribbles the ball against the Orlando City SC during the first half at Camping World Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia Union are in search of a defensive midfielder. As Will Johnson’s role diminishes in Toronto, could he be the answer?

The Philadelphia Union need midfield depth but with the salary cap and other restrictions governing player acquisitions in MLS sometimes, attracting players can be easier said than done. It makes front offices be creative about their acquisitions because they cannot always pay as much for a player as their competitors can. One development that has made player acquisition easier for clubs is the introduction of limited free agency.

This was introduced last offseason due to the updated CBA between MLS and the MLS Players Association. The way that it’s set up is with the 28/8 year rule. What the rule means is that a player must be at least 28 years old while also having played at least eight years in MLS to be eligible for free agency.

For a player coming off a contract with a salary of less than $100k, clubs can max out at a 25 percent increase. For salaries between $100k and $200k, it’s 20 percent. Any player who made over $200k on their last deal can only earn 15 percent more at most.

Will Johnson is someone eligible for free agency that could appeal to the Philadelphia Union. He’s making a 375,000 base salary this year which means that Johnson cannot make more than 431,250 as his base salary next season.

With that background out of the way, let’s get to why Johnson is unsettled in Toronto.

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Will Johnson has been underappreciated during his time in MLS. Over his long career, Johnson has had stops in Chicago, Salt Lake, Portland, and Toronto being a key contributor at each stop along the way. As Toronto got hot this season, however, Johnson took a back seat to Jonathan Osorio who has become the creative force in the Toronto midfield. This has pushed Micheal Bradley into Johnson’s preferred role of defensive midfielder and relegated Johnson to the bench.

Because of this, Johnson could be open to a change of scenery according to a story first reported by Kurt Larsen of the Toronto Sun.

"“This is a fantastic club — the way they do things from top to bottom,” Johnson said. “If someone else can convince me there’s a better role out there, then I’ll look at it after the season.”"

That shows that while Johnson is focused on Toronto during the playoff run but he’s keeping his options open.

"“At this point, I’m going to explore free agency. I might as well,” Johnson said. “Things can change quickly. But, straight up, I have no idea what I’m going to do next year.”"

Johnson has only started 19 matches for the Reds this season and for a player of his caliber, that needs to increase moving forward.

How could the Philadelphia Union use Johnson?

Johnson is a strong defensive midfielder who could work well in the team’s midfield. He is able to orchestrate play as a deep lying playmaker or move higher up the pitch if needed. It would help fill the void left by Vincent Nogueira while also offering insurance for Maurice Edu. Edu may have a more physical playstyle than Johnson but Johnson could still play a large role for the team.

Johnson is reportedly looking for a move to a contender which makes Philly look like a longshot at first glance. But when you crunch the numbers, the Philadelphia Union are only 1-2 pieces away from contention. With their young core, the Philadelphia Union are set up for success, they just need a few veteran pieces to guide them to the cup.

His composure is one of Johnson’s qualities that could help the Union. He can help steady the team in 2017 as they look to take a step forward.

Next: Depth in Central Defense is Critical

Final Words:

With Johnson’s salary demands, he could easily be incorporated into the lineup for the Union. He may not be a flashy addition but those types of additions don’t suit Earnie Stewart’s transfer policy. If Johnson is actually open to leaving Toronto, Philadelphia would be fully open to welcoming him.