After scoring in second-half stoppage time to give Sounders FC a commanding 2-0 lead over the Colorado Rapids in its Knockout Round matchup on Wednesday at CenturyLink Field, Eddie Johnson collapsed first to his knees, then face-down on the ground, covering his face with his hands.
The goal was an emotional moment in Seattle, as it lifted the 10-man Sounders to the team’s first playoff victory of the 2013 season, but it also had a personal meaning for Johnson, as he was eager to pay tribute to a member of the Sounders FC family.
On October 11, Nicole Tranilla – the wife of Seattle assistant equipment manager Scott Tranilla – died unexpectedly in her sleep at the age of 39, leaving behind her husband and two young daughters.
“I wanted to score a goal in remembrance of his wife and share my prayers for their family,” Johnson said after the match.
While the moment was certainly poignant for Johnson on a personal level, it was also big on a professional level. Limited in the last four matches of the regular season by a sports hernia, Johnson was eager to get back on the field and contribute.
“Being out for two and half weeks … it was a very frustrating time for me,” he said. “Not being able to be out there for the team, you want to get out there and get back where you left off and it’s not possible. It takes one or two games to get your rhythm again.”
That rhythm has come at the right time for Sounders FC.
Seattle lost all three matches that Johnson missed and earned a draw against the Galaxy in the regular season finale in his first match back. Now in the MLS Cup Playoffs, the team has found its personality and the attacking trio of Johnson, Lamar Neagle and Clint Dempsey have been central to that success.
Now that they have had consistent practice sessions together, the group has been able to establish some cohesion among them. In training, Dempsey, Neagle and Johnson are pitted against the defense and challenged to find solutions and that has paid off on the field.
“I feel like the last two games we’ve been able to find each other and combine with each other,” Johnson said. “We just want to keep that momentum going into the next game.”
It’s a quick turnaround for Sounders FC, who will meet the Portland Timbers on Saturday at CenturyLink Field. Johnson scored in both matches against the Timbers that he played this season and has four goals in five career matches against Seattle’s Cascadia rivals to the south. However, his injury kept him out of the final meeting of the regular season against Portland, a 1-0 loss for Seattle.
Missing that match weighs on Johnson and he is ready to step up on the big stage against the Timbers.
“It’s always difficult going down there and playing those guys. They’re very good at home,” he said. “It was very frustrating not being part of the team when we went there.”
Tickets for the first leg on Saturday are available at the CenturyLink Field Box Office, via www.SoundersFC.com or by calling 800-745-3000. The second leg will be Thursday, October 7 at JELD-WEN Field in Portland.