SALT LAKE CITY — Instead of snowshoeing with his Real Salt Lake teammates on Saturday, midfielder Will Johnson was on a plane bound for Greece.
He's skipping a week of training camp to prepare for Canada's international friendly against Greece. While most of the world will be ignoring the match, Johnson said it's a huge opportunity for his national team.
"It's big for me. I take great pride in playing for Canada," said Johnson. "It's an important year for us. From the outside looking in it might just look like another friendly against another team, but for me it's an important match building toward the Gold Cup which is then building toward World Cup qualifying."
The match between Canada and Greece is Wednesday in Larissa, Greece. Only four of Canada's 18 players are based in MLS, with the rest playing overseas. Canadian coach Stephen Hart is clearly taking the match seriously as he tries to build momentum heading into this summer's Gold Cup.
Even though Johnson is missing a week of RSL's training camp with a CONCACAF Champions League match just around the corner on Feb. 22, he believes he's gaining just as much experience with his national team.
"Even though it's a really long way, I think there's a lot of merit to me going to play that game," said Johnson, who signed a contract extension with Real Salt Lake in the offseason that will keep him in Utah through 2014.
Johnson is one of three RSL players not with the team in Casa Grande, Ariz. during this week's stretch of training camp. El Salvador hosts Haiti in a friendly this Wednesday, and Arturo Alvarez will be representing El Salvador and Jean Alexandre will be representing Haiti.
All three are expected to rejoin Real Salt Lake at training camp in Arizona on Feb. 11.