TORONTO — The end of Toronto FC's eight-game road trip to open the MLS season has special meaning for midfielder Will Johnson.
Sunday's contest in Providence Park marks a return to Portland, where the 29-year-old Canadian international spent three seasons and captained the Timbers.
After battling back from a serious leg injury sustained in September 2014 while playing for Portland at BMO Field, Johnson was traded to Toronto last December for a conditional second-round pick in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft and targeted allocation money.
He says going back to the Pacific Northwest will be special.
"On one hand I can't wait," Johnson said recently. "On the other I don't want me going back there to overshadow what a fantastic game it will be — the crowd, the atmosphere. Two of the teams, for me, that do the right way, that are well-coached, well-organized, that have good players who are passionate about this league.
"So I'm going to try to downplay that as much as I can, for me going back. But obviously I can't wait to go back and see a lot of people in the stands. Those fans were always very good to me. So it will be a treat."
Johnson made 74 appearances for the Timbers, with 17 goals and eight assists in MLS regular-season and playoff competition after coming to Portland in a trade from Real Salt Lake in December 2012.
When he returned from his leg injury, a change in Timbers coach Caleb Porter's formation left him on the outside looking in last season as Portland made its MLS Cup run.
Restored to full fitness, Johnson has found a new home in Toronto.
The five-foot-10 160-pounder has added teeth to the TFC midfield, joining forces with captain Michael Bradley to lead Toronto to third place in the Eastern Conference with a 3-2-2 record despite the extended road to start the season due to ongoing renovations at BMO Field.
Toronto finally plays at home, under a new stadium canopy, on May 7 when it hosts FC Dallas.
TFC has won two straight, blanking D.C. United 1-0 and the Montreal Impact 2-0. The reigning champion Timbers (2-3-2) are eighth in the Western Conference and are coming off a 3-1 victory in San Jose that snapped a five-game (0-3-2) winless streak.
Johnson has also played for the Chicago Fire and SC Heerenven and De Graafschap in the Netherlands.
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Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press