TUKWILA, Wash. — The past three days were relaxing for most of the Seattle Sounders, who were given some time off during their bye week.
Eddie Johnson, however, was not so lucky.
Despite making his first MLS start since 2007 on Saturday, the Sounders forward was hard at work on the training ground alongside fitness coach Dave Tenney and several other injured teammates early this week. The extra training sessions were part of an effort to help Johnson close the fitness gap he has after first being a late addition to the roster and then suffering a couple injuries during preseason.
“I’m slowly almost to 100 percent,” Johnson said after Thursday’s full-team training. “I feel good physically, and I’m just going to continue working hard.”
Johnson’s starting debut was not particularly spectacular. He played 66 minutes, had just one shot and picked up a yellow card. The highlight of his performance came in the 38th minute when he nearly set up Fredy Montero with a nicely weighted through ball that Colorado Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens had to come way outside the penalty area to knock away.
Maybe more important than his actual performance, though, was the fact that he made it through an hour on the field without further aggravating the hip-flexor injury he’s been nursing for a few weeks.
“It was like a kid in a candy store,” Johnson said of his longest competitive appearance in nearly a year. “I knew from a fitness standpoint I couldn’t go 90 minutes, but I felt good physically to get out there, work hard and cause trouble for their back four. As far as my return and my hip flexor holding up, I thought it was a good 65 minutes where it wasn’t sore two or three days afterward.”
Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said the most important thing was keeping Johnson healthy and he seemed satisfied with the progress up to this point.
“For him, it’s just a matter getting his timing [so] that he’s able to train everyday… That helps his timing,” Schmid said. “The best Eddie Johnson we’re going to see is going to be around the middle of May. As long as he continues to train, his timing, his game intuition and fitness will come at that point.”
Once all that comes together, Schmid is bullish on the possibilities of a Montero-Johnson front line.
“At the end of the year, I’m still convinced that they will be one of the most dangerous combinations,” Schmid said.
Adam Johansson and Mauro Rosales were able to fully participate in Thursday's training session, the most extensive work either has done since they made their most recent appearance in last month's season opener. Schmid said they could play in Saturday's scrimmage against the University of Washington.
Alvaro Fernandez, who missed Saturday's game with a quadriceps strain, practiced on the side and worked out on a stationary bicyle.
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.