Johnson a big part of Sounders at season's vital stage
Posted by: Matt Gaschk
Johnson's contributions to the Sounders season have been immense and his absence in the first leg of the Western Conference semifinals was definitely felt.
Fredy Montero has been among the league’s best goal-scorers since he joined Major League Soccer in 2009.
This year, he established a new career-high with 13 goals and also added eight assists to continue to be one of the most productive players in the league. One thing that has helped him find more space and opportunities for the club record 126 shots he took was the addition of Eddie Johnson as a top strike partner.
That element was also absent in Seattle’s scoreless draw with Real Salt Lake on Friday in the first leg of their Western Conference semifinal matchup. However, Johnson is expected to be back alongside Montero when the Sounders and RSL take the pitch in the return leg on Thursday at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.
“I’ve come too far to not be a part of this special thing that we’ve got going as a team,” Johnson said after training on Monday. “We know how much it means to our fans and to the organization in getting to the next round. We know it’s not going to be easy.”
The Sounders found plenty of service in the first leg draw, but were unable to convert as Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando came up with five saves.
While Sounders FC head coach Sigi Schmid said that those opportunities aren’t simply remedied by inserting Johnson into the lineup, his inclusion will certainly make a difference.
“He’s good in the air and in the first game there was a lot of crosses because they give you space on the flanks, so his ability in the air can help us. His speed forces the defense to have to respect him a little more,” Schmid said.
Most importantly, though, Johnson will be able to create space for Montero.
In the 20 games that Johnson and Montero started together at forward this season in MLS play, the Sounders went 10-5-5, with Johnson scoring 10 goals and adding three assists while Montero scored eight goals to go with seven assists.
“His presence opens up space for Fredy Montero and Fredy Montero’s presence opens up space for Eddie,” Schmid said. “He hasn’t scored 14 goals for no reason and Fredy hasn’t scored 13 goals for no reason. With each other, they are a very formidable duo and they help feed off each other.”
Although Montero was complimentary of the efforts of Sammy Ochoa and David Estrada in Johnson’s absence, he also conceded that there is something special about the partnership he has formed with Johnson.
“He scores the goals when I pass to him. That’s good for me and that’s good for the team,” Montero smiled. “We just need one goal. That’s all we need to do – defend and score one goal.”
Johnson watched from the suite level with the rest of his Sounders FC teammates who did not dress for the match on Friday and was excited about the opportunities created in the match, but was down with his teammates when those opportunities weren’t converted. His hope is that those chances will become goals at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“It was good to watch, from the start of the whistle to the end of the game, the desire, the commitment, the effort that we put in as a team,” Johnson said.
The Sounders will train at their home training ground on Tuesday and Wednesday before leaving for Utah, where they will meet RSL in the decisive game on Thursday evening.