Herriman • Before Sam Johnson hurt his quad muscle in the first half of Real Salt Lake’s win over Columbus Crew earlier this month, the Liberian striker was firing on all cylinders. He’d scored three goals in two games, and four of RSL’s five goals in the previous six. In short, Johnson was basically the entire offense from a goal-scoring standpoint.
What was initially deemed a “precautionary” substitution against Columbus turned into a serious injury. RSL coach Mike Petke revealed after Saturday’s win over Philadelphia that his dynamic and poaching striker would be out six to eight weeks. He has already missed two games.
With Johnson unavailable for that long of a stretch, RSL will have to revert somewhat to how it played last season: runs and opportunities coming from the smorgasbord of attackers on the roster.
"Now, really, the runs Sam will usually make have to come from other places as well more importantly now,” Petke said last week before facing the Union.
Salt Lake scored four goals against Philadelphia without Johnson. Petke said the teams’s performance answered questions some had regarding where Real would get its scoring without Johnson — but only for one game.
“It’s always about the next game,” Petke said Tuesday after training.
Having a forward like Johnson has benefitted RSL, giving it the opportunity to threaten opposing back lines in a way it simply couldn’t over the past few years. But Petke has still encouraged other attacking players like Sebastian Saucedo and Jefferson Savarino to get involved and find scoring opportunities for themselves.
But when Johnson is in the lineup, Saucedo and Savarino — maybe even without consciously recognizing it — drop back deeper to receive the ball and run forward, Petke said. It may have been a different story against the Union, though.
“I think with this game, maybe there was either a blatant recognition or just subconsciously that there was more opportunities to get behind,” Petke said.
Savarino notched two goals and an assist against Philadelphia and was named the Major League Soccer player of the week Monday for his efforts. Damir Kreilach and Albert Rusnák scored a goal apiece.
In 2018, Kreilach and Rusnák scored double-figure goals by the end of the regular season, with Corey Baird and Joao Plata not being far behind (both scored eight). Through 20 games in 2019, Johnson and Rusnák appear on pace to score more than 10, but Kreilach and Baird aren’t.
But those numbers may soon break in the right direction for players whose last name isn’t Johnson, and familiarity could have something to do with that.
“A lot of these guys, especially in the last couple of [starting] lineups, we’ve played together a lot last year,” Brooks Lennon said. “Having Damir up top and Albert, Sava, Bofo, all those guys … this is our second year together.”
Many times last season, Kreilach played in the position Johnson occupies now — the center forward in the 4-2-3-1 formation Petke primarily uses. Kreilach doesn’t have the speed that Johnson has, but he has other attributes that make him a serviceable stopgap while Johnson recovers from the injury.
“Damir is a little bit different of a striker than Sam is,” Lennon said. “But he gives us that height. And you know whenever the ball’s wide, he’s going to be in the box trying to get his head on something to knock something down for someone else. So yeah, they pose different threats, but both great threats.”
MINNESOTA UNITED AT REAL SALT LAKE
When • Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV • KMYU