Will Johnson Jax

Will Johnson and a Week in Jacksonville

The boys hit the road today, northbound to Jacksonville. 

After three preseason training sessions at home base at Sylvan Lake Park, Jason Kreis took his Lions to Duval County for another week of training before kicking off the preseason slate.

It’s not quite the same as Jim Harbaugh’s Italian excursion, but the benefits are pretty similar. 

“Everybody’s going on the road to get to know each other and to bond,” Will Johnson said after training Wednesday.

A trip to Jacksonville could be just what Johnson needs. He signed with Orlando City on Dec. 28, lured by the promise of playing for his former coach and a few former teammates in a brand new stadium.

Johnson played for Kreis at Real Salt Lake for five years. The two won MLS Cup in 2009 before Johnson moved on and won another title with Portland in 2015. In his native Toronto in 2016, a penalty kick shootout is all that stood between Johnson and a third ring.

Already in Orlando when Johnson arrived were Joe Bendik, the Lions’ brilliant backstop, and Donny Toia, who played at RSL in 2011. That was the extent of the familiar faces for him, but it seems the new ones were friendly enough.

“Today was my first real session with them. Nice guys,” Johnson said. 

He’ll get to know all them – and Kreis’ philosophies – in the River City, because despite their five years together, things have changed since 2012. 

“There was definitely some things he said that I hadn’t heard before, but that’s to be expected,” Johnson said. “He’s a guy who evolves and understands that staying the same is not going to be good enough in a league that continually evolves and gets better.”

But for now, as they rumble up the road, done with soccer for the day, Johnson and the rest of the new guys can get to know their new teammates. And just maybe, Kreis, notoriously demanding of his players, knows there are other benefits of skipping town for the week.

“Everybody’s going on the road to get to know each other and to bond,” Johnson said. “It’s important because we need to go and do work and we need to go to a place where we don’t have the off-field distractions. First and foremost, getting to a place where we can put in real work.  I think that’s where you’ll see a difference between what we’re doing and what other teams are doing.”

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