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Will Johnson regrets teammate comments but admits differences with Greg Vanney

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The departing midfielder cleared the air after coming under fire for criticism of the way his time at Toronto FC ended.

Toronto FC v Montreal Impact - Eastern Conference Finals - Leg 1 Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Anthony Totera of NextSportStar landed a real coup for his Red Card show on Wednesday night by speaking to Will Johnson in the wake of the departing Toronto FC midfielder’s controversial comments about the way his time at BMO Field ended.

Like us, Anthony was critical of Johnson’s interview with the Toronto Star - you can watch his initial reaction here - in which he appeared to suggest that he had been treated unfairly by coach Greg Vanney compared to other players who had spent time on the sidelines with an injury.

Johnson spoke at length about that interview - as well as reflecting on his time in Toronto and looking ahead to the future with Orlando City - in an attempt to clear the air and properly communicate how he felt. The full interview is well worth a watch and starts at around the 32:30 mark of the video below.

Johnson admits that he regrets naming specific teammates who he felt had received favourable treatment when compared to his own situation. He did, however, admit differences - though none personal - with Vanney and said that the end of their working relationship was the “easy” part about his decision to leave TFC.

“Overall, this season was awesome. I reflect on my time in Toronto as nothing but successful. I had a fantastic year, the club had a fantastic year - all of those things don’t change. I understand that some people kind of see this as a parting shot from me, in a negative way, on my way out the door… to me, that just wasn’t the case.

“The part that you bring up about my teammates is something that yeah, probably not a good idea to bring up individuals just because injuries happen at different times throughout the year [and] opportunities are based on results to get their spots back. When you bring up the part about naming individuals and specific injuries and getting their spots back, I agree with you; that’s not me and that’s the part that I regret.

“The other part is the player relationship, the player-coach relationship. It’s not a knock on [Vanney’s] character, it’s not a knock on his leadership skills or coaching abilities, but I just prefer a coach who’s a little bit different. I worked well with Caleb Porter and Jason Kreis and for whatever reason, the easy part about leaving Toronto FC was to walk away from the professional relationship with Greg.

“I really like him as a guy, but just for me and my style, it was something that I felt I needed something different, and so for me, for anyone who thinks that I’m trying to paint Greg in a negative light, that’s just simply not me, it’s simply not the case. I want people to understand that I think Greg’s done a really good job with Toronto, and I’m not going to go through each decision and how it was made per se, but obviously the way things ended with me and as pertains to my individual circumstances for the final half of the year after my injury, those parts… the private conversations Greg and I had left me disappointed and ultimately I decided that it was time for me to move on and find a new challenge.”

And that’s fair enough. Perhaps the way Vanney dealt with Johnson after he had been dropped from the first XI left something to be desired; perhaps there was nothing more he could have done to prevent Johnson from being upset. We weren’t privy to those conversations and we’ll never know.

What we can say is that mature players and coaches are capable of having disagreements and handling them in an amicable way, and I think Johnson did a much better job of that this time. Yes, the “easy” line is pretty blunt, but that’s just how he is; he speaks honestly, which should really be applauded. I don’t think there’s any malice there.

Ultimately, I still maintain that the reduction in Johnson’s role was the right move on Vanney’s part and that his departure is probably the right move for both parties. Credit to Johnson, however, for taking ownership of what he said and answering for it; it will go a long way towards keeping the respect Toronto FC fans have for him intact.