Sandy • If Sam Johnson never had chosen to take up professional soccer, he could have had a career as an elite sprinter in the 100-meter dash.
In the 38th minute of Real Salt Lake’s 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew on Wednesday at Rio Tinto Stadium, Johnson showed off his breakneck speed. Defender Aaron Herrera sent a long ball Johnson, who was positioned far up the field. On the flight of the ball, Johnson engaged his fast twitch muscles, perhaps in an effort to secure his own rendition of “Forrest Gump.”
The RSL striker outran two Crew defenders, gave the ball a light touch with his head, then finished with his right foot. It was the only goal of the evening, but Johnson’s third in two games and eighth this season.
“He’s deceptively fast,” coach Mike Petke said. “His gait, he doesn’t have quick steps. It’s very long strides and he just glides. So it was pretty cool to see that from the sideline.”
Goalkeeper Nick Rimando joked that he told Herrera to get it Johnson. But on a more serious note, he said he merely told Herrera to clear the ball away from the box. He described the sequence as RSL benefiting from some fortune.
“Sometimes you need lucky bounces like that to go your way,” Rimando said.
Three points at home for Salt Lake is always good news for the club. But the team that plays with the Wasatch Mountains as a backdrop got another sliver of good news. After beating the Crew, RSL elevated itself to sixth place in the Western. It is tied in points with FC Dallas, which has one less win than Salt Lake.
Real played a strong defensive game as well, allowing Columbus only seven total shots and none on goal. RSL tallied 14 shots, three of which were on target.
Although the team won, the sentiment around RSL was the team wasn’t as sharp as it could have been. Rimando attributed that to possibly having heavy legs after playing two games in five days. Petke pointed out that the team played backward too much and did not try to break the Crew’s defensive lines enough.
Petke said the team finding ways to grind out games despite disappointing performances is a positive development this season.
“My first year that I was here, parts of last year, about a year or two before I was here, this team would not have gotten a result,” Petke said. “The mentality, the grittiness, determination — that’s very important when you build a team and when you have a team that you want to accomplish things with. It’s not always the tactics, it’s not always the beautiful play. It’s getting a result.”
Real did itself a favor Saturday by beating Sporting Kansas City, allowing it to say in the mix for a playoff berth in the Western Conference. Entering Wednesday’s game, RSL was one spot below the playoff line, but just three points away from the fifth spot.
Real has won its last two games and is on a three-game unbeaten streak. Rimando added yet another clean sheet to his 20-year resume.
Notes • Johnson did not finish the game due to a thigh injury. A spokesperson said he was pulled from the game as a precaution. … RSL was without Kyle Beckerman, who served a suspension due to yellow card accumulation.