NASHVILLE – Alistair Johnston has plenty of reasons to be satisfied with the 2020 season.
He started the season as an unheralded rookie out of Wake Forest University, finished the season having started 15 of Nashville’s regular season matches and all three Audi MLS Cup Playoff matches, and he capped off the year by earning his first call-up to the Canadian Men’s National Team.
However, when you ask him about his reflections on 2020, that’s not the first thing he mentions.
“When I went back over it, the first kind of impressions were definitely still a little bit of salt in the wound,” Johnston said. “When you look back on that Columbus game, you nitpick things. I’m my own biggest critic. There’s definitely some decisions I would have liked to make better in that game, and definitely looking back on other games as well.”
Despite being hard on himself, Johnston also understands just how spectacular his rookie season was, both for himself and his team. He also understands what it’s going to take to continue that success in 2021.
“I think we exceeded a lot of expectations the outside media had for us, but I think within that group we knew we could have done more still,” he said. “I think that’s going to be the biggest challenge this year, proving to the rest of the league that it wasn’t a fluke, it wasn’t just a joke that we made it that far and that we do belong. For me personally, I took a good solid first step. Now it’s about taking that next step and getting better every year. For me, I’ve been focusing on decision-making and stuff like that and just taking that next step.”
Johnston joined the Canadian Men’s National Team for its January camp in Bradenton, Fla. While the team didn’t play a match during this camp, Johnston still gained his first taste of national team experience.
It was a moment Johnston had dreamed about for a long time, and a moment he hopes isn’t the last in his international career.
“As a kid growing up in Canada, it’s the thing you always want,” Johnston said. “You want the opportunity to pull on that red jersey and wear that crest. It was a super cool moment for myself and my family after the long hours as a kid, all the driving they did for me going to practices up there. It was a cool moment. Getting down to camp, it was pretty surreal getting to be around [National Head Coach] John Herdman and the group. Just good vibes all around. We have a really busy year in 2021 with Gold Cup, Olympic Qualifying and World Cup Qualifying. It’s going to be a packed 2021, so hopefully I’ll be able to play a part in that and hopefully it’s just the beginning of my Canadian career.”
Overall, one of Johnston’s biggest takeaways from his first national team camp is a sense of self-confidence. It can be easy as a rookie to feel like you’re not really a part of the team. But that all quickly changed this season, and evolved even more when he got into camp in Florida.
“Instantly, you’re going to feel like kind of a small fish in a big pond when you see the guys around the locker room,” Johnston said. “As time rolls on and you learn from these guys and you gain their trust, you feel like you do belong. That’s one of the biggest things, especially going into a national team camp like that. It’s about building that chemistry quickly. Can you get confidence in yourself to go out and perform? You don’t have a six-week long preseason to prove yourself. I think this first year really built that confidence inside that I've played against these guys. I belong here, too. I think that was maybe the biggest thing mentality-wise.”
Visit NashvilleSC.com and follow the club’s social channels on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter to keep up with the team during preseason camp presented by Vanderbilt Health.