TORONTO - It took just seconds for the Portland Timbers to lose their captain Saturday.
Will Johnson was stretchered off in the first minute of an MLS game against Toronto FC. He broke the fibula and tibia in his right leg after going shin-on-shin in a 50-50 challenge with Toronto fullback Mark Bloom that saw both players sliding to get at the ball near midfield and close to the Portland bench.
The 27-year-old Canadian international midfielder, curled on the ground, immediately grabbed his leg just below the knee and motioned to be substituted. He remained in Toronto after the game to have surgery.
"Players know," Toronto coach Greg Vanney said later. "Players know and he knew immediately (he was hurt).
"That was for me, the moment, the second I knew he was in trouble. It was a sad moment because I think he's a great player for this league ... I hope he recovers well and quickly."
Johnson, a no-nonsense midfielder in his own right, was taken off the field after a lengthy delay. Toronto midfielder Michael Bradley, a close friend of Johnson's, stood by as the Portland player was treated before leaving on a stretcher and taken to hospital.
"I didn't get a great view, not sure if I'll watch it again." said Portland coach Caleb Porter. "It was a tackle, two guys went in and he got the wrong end of it.
"It was unfortunate and tough but I was really pleased with the way the guys responded, sometimes you lose your captain and it sends your group into a funk but I thought we responded really well."
Portland scored in the 13th and 16th minutes to go ahead 2-0 but gave up three goals in the second half, including the 89th-minute winner via a Bradley free kick to lose 3-2.
Bloom also went down in the collision with the Toronto-born Johnson but was able to continue.
"For me it was just a matter of getting up and walking it off," Bloom said later. "Unfortunately for him, it was more intense."
There was no call on the play.
"They both went down just a little bit late for me," Vanney said of the collision. "And what happens is there's so much force into the challenge when guys go down a little bit late. Neither guy was going after each other. The ball was just there and they were both going for it.
"It's a matter of inches and millimetres, one guy getting a broken leg and one guy being able to walk away. It's a sad moment."
Growing up in Chicago, Bradley played youth soccer with Johnson and the two have also been teammates in Europe. They were both in each other's weddings.
"As a player and as a competitor you hate to see anybody get hurt. But when it's one of your closest friends it's not nice at all," said Bradley. "They both went in very hard. On the one hand you expected that they were both going to pop right up and on the other hand that play had a harder tone to it.
"If you were close to it, you could hear — the way they crashed into each other — you kind of knew that that was a hard one. I thought the medical staff and everybody did a good job. More than anything, at that moment, you're just trying to let him know you're there for him and make sure he's as calm and comfortable as possible."
After the game, Bloom said his leg was throbbing but he was grateful it was nothing worse.
"It was just a situation where he took a bad touch, (the ball) got away from him. And at the beginning of the game you want to set a tone. So we both went in for the tackle. I thought we both went in clean, no one went in dirty. It's just unfortunate that someone had to come out like that."
And Bloom tweeted: "Good luck @WillJohnson04 in your recovery. Hope you get better quickly. God bless."
The injury led to eight extra minutes at the end of the first half.
More reaction was quick to follow via Twitter.
"Stay strong, @WillJohnson04 ... know you will be back better than ever," said Timbers owner Merritt Paulson.
"My thoughts and prayers to you @WillJohnson04," said Ben Zemanski, the Timber player who came on for Johnson.
"Wishing you a quick and healthy recovery," added Real Salt Lake goalie Nick Rimando.
The five-foot-10, 160 pound Johnson was playing in his 29th game of the season and 177th of his MLS career. He has six goals this year.
The injury and defeat overshadowed several Portland marks:
— The Timbers tied their club MLS single-season record in goals (54).
— The two goals in 16 minutes were the fastest to begin a match in the team's MLS history.
— Midfielder Diego Chara became the first Timbers MLS player to surpass the 10,000 minutes played milestone in his Portland career.
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