Ever-present defender Alistair Johnston set to enter Canadian men's record book

Alistair Johnston has been a fixture for Canada the last two years, missing out on just one of the Canadian men's 29 games since the start of 2021.

And on Friday, the 24-year-old CF Montreal defender can enter the Canada record book if he sees action against No. 85 Bahrain in a pre-World Cup warmup at Al-Khalifa Stadium in Manama.

Johnston has started 26 games in a row for Canada. Former Canada captain Bruce Wilson holds the men's record at 27, set from 1984 to '86 when Canada last appeared at the World Cup. Johnston has already surpassed Paul Stalteri, another former Canadian captain, who played 25 games in a row from 1998 to 2000.

Johnston's senior debut coincided with Canada's opening World Cup qualifying match against Bermuda in March 2021. He won a second cap against the Cayman Islands before missing out on a game against Aruba in June 2021.

He was back for a match with Suriname later that month and has not missed a game since, seeing action in Canada's next 25 outings.

Canada is 18-6-4 when Johnston plays, including 6-4-0 this year.

The young defender/wingback has come a long way since being taken 11th overall by Nashville SC out of Wake Forest in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft

"It's been a really crazy couple of years," Johnston said Wednesday from Bahrain. "I've got extremely lucky, being put in some great situations with some great people. I've just really made sure that whenever I've had an opportunity, not to take anything for granted. And that's paid off for me.

"Whenever I've been given an opportunity, I've grabbed it with both hands and kind of taken it and ran with it. And just been myself. And you know, it's worked. It's been an unbelievable three years. There's nothing else I can say to that. It's been a roller-coaster but the roller-coaster keeps going up."

A steady defender able to play in a back three or as a fullback/wingback, Johnston is also an offensive threat, capable of delivering mouth-watering crosses.

Montreal thought enough of Johnston to send Nashville US$1 million in general allocation money last December to get him. It then signed him to a new two-year deal with options for the 2024 and 2025 campaigns.

Johnston, who made $445,625 this season, says the last 12 to18 months have been "hectic, chaotic."

"But hey, it's ended up with us in a World Cup so there's really no complaints here."

Johnston is a certainty to be on the World Cup roster, set to be announced Sunday. The Canadian men will then play a final warm-up against Japan on Nov. 17 in Dubai before returning to Doha to prepare for their World Cup Group F opener Nov. 23 against No. 2 Belgium.

Canada, ranked 41st in the world, will then play No. 12 Croatia on Nov. 27 and No. 22 Morocco on Dec. 1.

After losing defender Scott Kennedy and goalkeeper Maxime Crepeau to injuries that will rule them out of the World Cup, Canada coach John Herdman got some good news Wednesday when Atiba Hutchinson captained Besiktas to a 3-1 Turkish Cup win over third-tier Serik Belediyespor.

The 39-year-old Hutchinson, who has won a Canadian men's record 97 caps, had been sidelined with a bone bruise suffered in pre-season.

Herdman is currently holding a camp in Bahrain for out-of-season MLS players and midfielder Liam Fraser (KMSK Deinze, Belgium). His other European-based players are still with their clubs, which will be playing games right until FIFA's deadline Monday to release players for the World Cup, which kicks off Nov. 20.

Johnston says adjusting to the heat and sun in Bahrain has been a challenge after cooler conditions in Montreal, which saw its playoff run end on Oct. 23 in a 3-1 loss to New York City FC in the Eastern Conference semifinal.

"We've been training in the evenings (in Bahrain). Today was our first day training at 11 (a.m.) and it was definitely a little bit of a shock to the body, a shock to the system," Johnston said.

"It's been consistently hitting highs of 33, 34, 35 (Celsius). I don't know what it feels like but there's not a cloud in the sky, I'll tell you that much … The sun is no joke," he added.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 9, 2022

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press