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Johnson to explore free agency at end of season

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The veteran midfielder has been pushed out of the starting lineup by Toronto’s switch of formation.

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at Toronto FC Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Vanney’s switch to a 3-5-2 formation has paid off handsomely so far for Toronto FC as a team - but not for Will Johnson.

Johnson was one of the first names on the teamsheet in the Reds’ midfield diamond, but since Armando Cooper’s arrival and the change to three at the back there has been more competition for fewer jobs in the middle of the park.

The Canadian has paid the price, dropping to the bench as the first reserve for Cooper and Jonathan Osorio. Like the reliable, veteran presence he is, Johnson has still made himself useful by coming on late in games to help Toronto protect leads and, in the first leg of the New York City tie, keep the pressure on.

It’s a role Johnson is committed to for the remainder of the campaign, but not one he will settle for in the long term.

MLS: Conference Semifinals-New York City at Toronto FC Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

“Greg doesn’t need to talk to me about [playing time],” Johnson told the Sun. “I don’t need him to hold my hand. We’ve had conversations about what he wants me to do given the team he’s riding right now. I’m on board.

“I’m willing to do whatever I have to do. I’m proud that I have been able to execute that and he’s happy with me, but obviously I’m looking for a bigger role.”

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

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

MLS: Canadian Championship-Toronto FC at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

Two expansion clubs begin their MLS journey this winter and there will almost certainly be interest in Johnson on the back of the work he has done to help a young Toronto team take the next step - work he is proud of regardless of what the future holds.

“[This season] has been a big step forward from last year,” Johnson said. “Right now is a huge negative for me, not playing. It’s not why I came here. Obviously I came here to play and win. But, I’ve done a lot of good things here.

“I’ve helped push the team forward in the ways I can. When the national team guys have been gone, I’ve been around, pushing training and games. To be missing out on this part of the season is extremely difficult for me.

“But overall it has still been a very positive year given I broke another leg in the middle of the season. To be able to be healthy again, fit and sharp, but not contributing in a more meaningful way - for a good player like me - is difficult.”