Utah Royals lose 2-0 to the visiting Seattle Reign as Samantha Johnson retires from professional soccer

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah Royals FC defender Samantha Johnson (16) collides with Seattle Reign FC forward Shea Groom (2) in soccer action between Utah Royals FC and Seattle Reign FC in Sandy, Friday, June 28, 2019.

Sandy • About a half hour before the game, the Instagram posts started going up. First Vero Boquete. Then Mandy Laddish. Then Katie Stengel and Alexandra Kimball. One by one, the Utah Royals FC players paid tribute to one of their teammates.

That teammate was defender Samantha Johnson, who retired from professional soccer Friday after the Utah Royals FC lost 2-0 to the Seattle Reign. She ends her career a veteran of six years in the National Women’s Soccer League.

“I think she’s been one of out most consistent players throughout this really tough period without our [World Cup] players,” Harvey said. “We want to thank her for that. We wish her all the best in whatever her next endeavor is.”

Royals coach Laura Harvey addressed Johnson’s retirement after the game. She said Johnson decided before the start of the 2019 to take her life in another direction, and the team subsequently looked for a replacement during the preseason.

But the team couldn’t find a player of her caliber, Harvey said. Johnson decided to stay with the team and the two decided that Friday against Seattle would be her last game. But it came in a disappointing loss.

“Unfortunate that this is her last game and it ends like this because I think her career deserves more than that,” Harvey said. “She’s been in this league since the first year [of the NWSL] and been phenomenal for Chicago and … ourselves. I’m disappointed for her that this is her last game.”

Johnson, a center back, played all 90 minutes against the Reign. She ended this season starting all eight games in which she appeared.

“We love Sam Johnson and you always know that you’re going to get a tackle from her,” midfielder Mandy Laddish said before Harvey spoke about Johnson’s retirement. “She’s really hard to get by and she’s a last-minute tackler and it’s so hard for defenders to take her on 1-v-1. I don’t ever want to go against her 1-v-1 in training. So she’s someone that is a really strong center back for us. We love her.”

Some of the Royals players came into the stadium dressed in some outfits that Johnson is known to wear. Harvey said Friday was “Come Dressed as Sam Johnson.”

“She’s someone that they admire,” Harvey said of Johnson’s teammates. “They appreciate what she’s given to this team in this period.”

A few players said they did not play with enough urgency against the Reign, which directly contributed to the loss. Harvey said the knowledge that it was Johnson’s last game did not contribute to that whatsoever.

“I think if it was going to be anything to do with this being Sam’s game, it would be the opposite,” Harvey said. “She’s so popular in the locker room. … For me, I felt it would be a spark for them. But it just wasn’t.”

Johnson was not made available to media after the game, and Gunnhildur Jonsdottir was directed by team officials not to comment about Johnson’s retirement when asked even though Harvey had addressed it minutes prior.

Harvey said the players knew two months ago that Johnson was going to retire.

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