The 24-year-old caught the attention of viewers in the nation’s first appearance at the competition since 1986 when they were the better side against Belgium, despite losing 1-0. The game had not even concluded by the time reports emerged of Celtic's interest in the versatile defender. Possibly planning for the future departure of Josip Juranovic.
Johnston, who moved to Montreal last December for around £800,000 on a two-year deal with an option for two more, is a different type of full-back to Juranovic. After all, his performance against Belgium came on the right-side of a back three. However, the way he played was more in keeping with a right-back. He often stayed wide and high, allowing Laryea to push higher up the pitch in what was a really encouraging display from Canada. Johnston epitomised their approach: aggressive, high-energy, direct and positive.
Eden Hazard knew he was in a game with Johnston getting tight at every opportunity, trying to stop him turning. When he did he had the recovery pace to get back goal side. There were times he overcommitted, including a late slide tackle which missed Kevin de Bruyne. It is that front foot, committed defending which would fit into Ange Postecoglou’s style of suffocating opponents and helping the team push up the park.
For club side Montreal, Johnston has been a de facto winger, pushing high up the park and offering width and penetrating runs behind defences. Due to his positioning he is required to make a lot of recovery runs, as he did in a recent 3-1 loss to New York City in the MLS Cup play-offs. He possesses the energy and pace to do so.
How he could feature at Celtic
At Celtic he will be on the front foot as a full-back for most games in domestic football. His time at wing-back will suit him with the transition to a possible right-back berth at Parkhead and it will likely get the most out of him with the player at his best when the play is in front of him. He has a real willingness to join the attack on the overlap or underlap. It could be witnessed against Belgium. Many of his passes forward were followed by a run to support and provide an option. There was an excellent defensive splitting pass to free Junior Hoilett, while he stung the hands of Courtois with a venture forward.
His positioning when going forward will really help with Celtic’s own positional rotation. He can provide support centrally to allow the winger space out wide or stretch teams horizontally to allow someone like Liel Abada to move in field. Johnston is perhaps more comfortable out wide and will look to cross (he was fifth in the MLS for crosses). When he does he often puts the ball into good areas for forwards to attack.
Johnston, according to Transermarkt, is valued at €6million – which should be taken with a large pinch of salt. Having recently turned 24 he would represent good value, capable of coming straight in and with the opportunity to develop and sell further down the line for an increased fee.