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

Oct 16, 2013, 10:58 PM EDT

Will Johnson-Timbers

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.

  1. charliej11 - Oct 17, 2013 at 2:37 PM

    What did you say ?

    I don’t know !?!?

    What a punk. Man up and admit what you said. Or at least say I can’t say what I said.

    First he dives and then he lies. Classy guy.

    • notaretard - Oct 17, 2013 at 5:23 PM

      he honestly might not remember. a lot of players are constantly running their mouths throughout the game so it’s hard to recall one sentence or word out of hundreds. this sounds like the butt-hurt rantings of a fan of one of the teams whose players couldn’t control themselves

  2. SD1 Timbers Special Forces - Oct 17, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    Bill Laimbeer? I think Alonso, Burch and Gordan fit that description. Will Johnson is trash talking and the best athletes usually do it and can back it up. Bill Laimbeer was an enforcer used to hack good players into submission. Will Johnson is “talking” not smacking or playing dirty or without skill. It was Alonso that came in with a late hackle like Laimbeer, not Johnson. Hackle, that’s right, I just made that up.

    And if that is diving, what do you call the 8 times Dempsey made Greg Louganis look like an amateur? Not sure if you saw the performance put on by Robbie Keane against SJ, but THAT is diving. Embellished and exaggerated? Sure, but diving?

    • Richard Farley - Oct 17, 2013 at 3:30 PM

      Bill Laimbeer was never much of an enforcer. That was Rick Mahorn. Bill Laimbeer was the flopper; the guy who would exaggerate every bump; the dirty pick-layer; the mind games maestro; and the guy with a surprisingly reliable mid-range shot. But he wasn’t much of an enforcer, in my mind.

      • notaretard - Oct 17, 2013 at 5:26 PM

        never saw laimbeer play (too young and don’t care for the NBA) but pretty much every article/forum/discussion/tv segment i’ve seen on him has labelled him as one of the best enforcers in league history. not taking sides one way or the other, just saying that that’s his reputation and there are roughly 43,000 hits when you google “bill laimbeer enforcer”

      • Richard Farley - Oct 17, 2013 at 5:33 PM

        I see what you’re saying, but a) I obviously disagree, and b) how many hits would I get if I google “9/11 inside job” or “moon landing fake”. 43,000 sounds pretty small, but also, the internet has a way of being wrong, at times.

      • SD1 Timbers Special Forces - Oct 17, 2013 at 6:53 PM

        I see what you mean. I think Dennis Rodman would be a better example. The guy who is a constant antagonist, provokes people just enough that the ref only see’s the retaliation, not instigation. I can definitely see Will Johnson as a Rodman type player. And Rodman is one of my favorite athletes ever.

      • thaddeusballpheasant - Oct 17, 2013 at 11:03 PM

        Bill Laimbeer embellishment: 56,800 hits including “Top 10 NBA Floppers”

        Bill Laimbeer instigate: 53,900 hits

        Bill Laimbeer hack: 318,000 hits

        Bill Laimbeer cheap shot: 31,800 including “40 most vicious cheap shots”

      • Richard Farley - Oct 17, 2013 at 11:12 PM

        Lebron James cheap shot: 714,000 results

        A.C. Green cheap shot: 1,770,000 results

      • thaddeusballpheasant - Oct 18, 2013 at 4:01 AM

        abraham lincoln cheap shot: 2,230,000 results

        (too soon?)

    • thaddeusballpheasant - Oct 17, 2013 at 10:57 PM

      Let’s see: Chara tackles Dempsey and takes him down early in game. Dempsey has obvious issues now with his shoulder, which will end up affecting his balance. Sure, he was just diving then, because why not aggravate his shoulder more?

  3. mlsconvert88888 - Oct 17, 2013 at 3:25 PM

    Johnson is definitely doing something to rile these guys up, but what cracks me up is people trying to justify the indefensible actions of guys like Alonzo, Gordon and Burch by trying to make it about Johnson. You might as well be saying, “I’m so mad that Johnson is able to take advantage of other players’ lack of discipline!” Not being able to keep your cool is a weakness (in life, not just in soccer) and if you have a weakness, your opponents will try and capitalize on it. And trying to blame it on others won’t fix it for you.

    And after the Burch and Gordon instances, it’s a good bet that he’s at least not calling them “faggots”.

    • thaddeusballpheasant - Oct 17, 2013 at 10:53 PM

      Who is justifying their actions?
      Everything I’ve read has stated that these are obvious suspendable/cardable offenses, but the common thread among them is WJ.
      Neither Burch nor Gordon have lost their cool with anyone else, but the single time they blow up and say something wrong? At the same guy.

      It’s understandable that there will be some amount of trash talk going on over the course of a game, so the question becomes “What is Will Johnson doing that makes him so much more effective at it than everyone else?”

  4. cwrw0799 - Oct 17, 2013 at 7:31 PM

    Honestly if you found time to write about what Sigi said because he is bitter that he has not control over his players. If you find Sigi comments valid about Johnson the same could be said about ball boys. How many incidents has there been with ball boys over the last year three all causing suspensions. So it is the ball boys fault? Maybe you would do better to look at Sigi and ask why can’t he control his team better I mean Burch called used a homophobic slur, Martins hit someone in the head was carded, Alonzo, Scott got back to back red cards. Lets look at the what the real problem Sigi does not have control of his team for over a year now. Mr. Farley is chasing the shinny thing that Sigi is distracted him with.

    • Richard Farley - Oct 17, 2013 at 7:34 PM

      Are you under the impression that Sigi is the only person asking these questions about Johnson? If there was one ball boy that was at the center of three incidents, you’d surely be reading about him.

    • thaddeusballpheasant - Oct 17, 2013 at 11:13 PM

      Scott got two yellows, not losing control, he’s just a slow defender.
      Alonso lost his head and was sent off (he occasionally does that which is annoying).
      Martins had his red rescinded because he was Salazar’d.
      Burch made a mistake and served his suspension and has apologized profusely. He even appeared in a game with an LGBT club in the offseason.

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