SAN JOSE, Calif. – A month into the MLS regular season, Frank Yallop is a little too busy to lurk on message boards.
That doesn’t mean, however, that the San Jose Earthquakes coach is unaware of the fact that fifth-year attacker Ryan Johnson – one of the original Quakes from the team’s rebirth in 2008 – is beginning to draw fire from fans dissatisfied with his production over the last 14 months.
“I know the fans get frustrated with some aspects of the team, which is fine,” Yallop said. “But we’re going to win as a team as well. Ryan, if he plays every minute of every game and doesn’t score a goal, and we’re good, it doesn’t matter. It’s not like he has to score 10 goals otherwise we’re going to get rid of him.”
Since tallying a team-leading 11 goals in 2009, Johnson has just one score in 2,336 minutes of MLS play, including three full postseason matches last year.
Nevertheless, Johnson is still in line to start Saturday when the Quakes return to Red Bull Arena to face New York for the first time since eliminating the Eastern Conference’s top-seed from the 2010 MLS Cup playoffs with a 3-1 victory on their home turf (7:30 pm ET, Direct Kick, MatchDay Live).
Yallop used Johnson as a target forward and on the left wing during practices earlier this week and unless Scott Sealy – who has played only five minutes this season – makes a surprise jump into the starting lineup, it’s very likely the 26-year-old will once again start.
So why is Yallop convinced that Johnson’s ’09 form is indicative of his current potential, rather than being an aberration?
“Well, I think he gets chances,” Yallop said. “It’s about finishing them off.”
It looked as though Johnson would finally do that in the second minute against Toronto FC last weekend. A cross from the right side by Chris Wondolowski squirted between a couple players and bounced to Johnson, 12 yards out, at the far post. But Johnson appeared to hesitate as the ball settled and the moment was lost.
“He has had chances in the games we’ve had,” Yallop said. “If he’s not getting any chances, you kind of go, ‘Ooof. He’s not near the goal, doesn’t look dangerous.’ Scoring is a confidence thing, too. Once you get your first one and get off to the races, you’ll be fine.”
Yallop also likes the fact that when Johnson was moved from being a target forward last season out to the left wing – the position he played collegiately for Oregon State – he turned in eight assists during the regular season and one in the playoffs, setting up Bobby Convey against the Red Bulls.
That will become even more important as the Quakes bring injured striker Steven Lenhart – who missed the first four matches recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery and dealing with the aftermath of his father’s death – back up to speed next week. If Johnson can’t play off of Lenhart, then it might be a matter of playing off the bench instead.
“Scoring is important obviously from a center forward, but if [Johnson] is setting a lot of guys up – I think he had nine assists last year,” Yallop said. “At least he was productive in certain areas. For us, it’s making sure that the team’s doing well and don’t focus on one guy.”
Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at email@example.com. On Twitter: @sjquakes