Red-hot Johnson ready to step back into the fray with SJ
SAN JOSE, Calif. — All things being equal, Ryan Johnson would rather be in Los Angeles on Saturday, not facing LA.
But despite Johnson’s pair of goals in pool play, the Jamaican national team will not be on the Rose Bowl pitch to partake in the finals of this year’s Gold Cup, having been knocked out in the quarterfinals by the United States.
And that means Johnson has rejoined the San Jose Earthquakes after a four-match absence with the Reggae Boyz, ready to provide a roster boost just as the Quakes prepare to host their biggest rivals: the LA Galaxy (6:30 pm ET; FOX Soccer).
“It’s the coach’s decision, and if he’s ready to throw me back in there, I’m ready,” said Johnson. “Just keep working hard, that’s all I can do. Try to get my legs back from all the traveling that we were doing. I’m just going to spend a little more time in the training room to make sure I’m 100 percent.”
Coach Frank Yallop said Johnson has “a good chance of playing on the weekend,” although it won’t be determined for certain until Friday.
“He was playing very well before he left,” Yallop said. “You don’t want to punish a player that’s done well. But again, I’ve got to do what’s right for the team.”
With the Quakes coming off a 1-0 loss at Kansas City on Friday, there’s no concern of removing a player unjustly from a winning XI. There is, however, some question as to where Johnson might best be deployed, if he does start.
One option is to slot Johnson back into his most recent home, at left midfield. That would require bumping veteran Ramiro Corrales either to left back or the bench, but would put Johnson at the spot where he’s had his most MLS success of late, with 10 assists since the start of the 2010 season.
“The games before he left, he was a handful on the left side, attacking non-stop, going at the right back all day long,” Quakes midfielder Sam Cronin told MLSsoccer.com. “He’s a nuisance to mark because he gets the ball and he’s coming straight at you. He’s an athletic winger and a good one-on-one player.”
However, now might also be a good time to give Johnson another shot at forward. He’s scored just once in his past 35 MLS matches — a big comedown from his 11-goal season in 2009 — but Johnson is carrying the confidence borne from cashing in goals against Grenada and Honduras earlier this month. And with 2010 Golden Boot winner Chris Wondolowski absent for one final game with the United States team, there is a spot open underneath or alongside target man Steven Lenhart.
Yallop wouldn’t give any indication of where he wants to see Johnson, but made it clear Johnson remains an option up top.
“All of a sudden, a player will catch fire and away they go, which happened to Lenny,” Yallop said, referring to Lenhart’s hat trick two weeks ago against D.C. United. “Ryan Johnson is due some goals. He’s been in some good spots, so I’m excited for him.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @sjquakes