Sam Johnson, Real Salt Lake’s new striker, hasn’t scored a goal in five games. But his rise in confidence tells him he’s not far off.

(Photo courtesy of Real Salt Lake) RSL signed Liberian striker Sam Johnson on Monday, Feb. 4, 2019 to a designated player contract.

Herriman • When Sam Johnson arrived at Real Salt Lake, the sentiment around the team and fan base alike was that the organization had finally found its striker after almost a year of looking. But so far, the Liberian has been hampered by a knee injury he suffered in the preseason, and relegated to 25 minutes or so off the bench.

By his own admission, Johnson’s first Major League Soccer season has been “up and down.” He has played five games but has yet to score a goal. And for a player who has scored 69 goals in 180 career appearances all over the world, the lack of scoring and playing time has affected his confidence.

“Since I started my football career, I’m not a bench player. I never sit on the bench before, every team I’ve been to,” Johnson told The Salt Lake Tribune earlier this week. “It’s not going good for me, I can say, because [playing five] games now and not scoring — no. It bothers me a little bit.”

But after playing for the Liberian national team two weeks ago and making his first MLS start in last weekend’s loss to the Seattle Sounders, Johnson is starting to get some of that confidence back. He played 69 minutes against the Sounders and got off two shots, one of which came close to finding the back of the net when RSL looked to tie the game.

“It was good to bring my courage back,” Johnson said of his first start.

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Vancouver Whitecaps defender Doneil Henry (2) goes for the ball along with Real Salt Lake forward Sam Johnson (50), in MLS soccer action at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Saturday, March 9, 2019.

RSL coach Mike Petke liked Johnson’s work rate in the Seattle game, and said the two attempts at goal that he missed will probably go in as he gets more acclimated to his teammates and the speed of play. Petke added that Johnson impacts RSL’s attack with his pace, his knack of getting good scoring opportunities, and his ability to keep the opposing team’s center backs on one side of the field when Real are on defense.

“He’s got quality, he’s getting more comfortable, he’s getting his confidence,” Petke said of Johnson. “You saw it in a lot of spurts in that game.”

Johnson hurt his knee fighting for a ball in the air during a preseason game in Hawaii. He said when he landed, his knee twisted. He said his knee is not yet 100 percent, but he doesn’t want to sit out of games because he joined RSL to be on the field.

He also alluded to more bottom line reasons as to why he is fighting through the injury.

“I’m just trying to bear the pain,” Johnson said. “I don’t want to sit because I came here to play. The more I sit, the more my value drops. So I’m trying to fight it hard to be back.”

With only one start so far this season, Johnson hasn’t been able to spend much more than practice time with the players who could be tasked with finding him in positions to score during games. In previous stops throughout his career, his teammates would have no problem feeding him five or six balls because they knew that even if he missed most of those opportunities, they trusted him to make something happen with at least one or two.

That level of trust hasn’t happened yet with his RSL teammates, Johnson said. But he knows it is only a matter of time before it does.

“I haven’t delivered for the club yet,” Johnson said. “They have other players who have been delivering. … I’m just there to be there and get my chance. Maybe if I score one or two goals, they will know like, ‘OK this guy, he can deliver.’ ”


At Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah

Kickoff » Saturday, 7 p.m. MDT


Radio » 700 AM

Records » RSL 1-4-1, Orlando City 2-2-2

Last meeting » Orlando 3, RSL 1 (May 6, 2018)

About Orlando City » Dom Dwyer leads the team with three goals, while three other players have two each. … Recently acquired $400,000 in targeted allocation money in a trade with the L.A. Galaxy. … Nani leads with four assists. … Employs Danilo Acosta, who was sent out by RSL on loan in the offseason. Defender Carlos Ascues will not play due to a hamstring injury. He started the previous game for Orlando.

About RSL » Team has lost four consecutive games. … Averaging 0.8 goals per game. … Marcelo Silva will not play due to an injury. Coach Mike Petke said both Justen Glad and Nick Belser are candidates to replace Silva in the starting lineup. … Jefferson Savarino leads the team in both total shots and shots on goal.