SEATTLE – For much of the season, Ryan Johnson has been the Portland Timbers’ leading scorer and first-choice striker.
But over the last two months, the big Jamaican international has been relegated to more of a secondary role as head coach Caleb Porter moved to a matchup-based rotation atop his 4-3-3 formation. In the biggest game in Portland’s history to date, Johnson was thrust back into the spotlight with his first start since Aug. 30.
And he delivered.
He gave the Timbers their first-ever lead at CenturyLink Field against the Seattle Sounders with a 15th-minute header, sending them on their way to a 2-1 victory in the first leg of their Western Conference Semifinal matchup.
“Just doing my job,” Johnson said. “If I’m coming off the bench or I’m starting it doesn’t really matter to me because it is what it is. I can’t change anything, I can’t make the coaching decision. Whatever he wants to do, I’m with it and I’m glad it’s worked out well.”
Johnson does seem to produce whenever he’s on the field – he scored as a second-half substitute in Portland’s 5-0 win last weekend over Chivas USA in their regular season finale. And he’s now tied for the team lead with 10 goals.
Porter said he was happy with the way Johnson responded to the opportunity.
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“We have different guys at different times that step up,” Porter said. “We’ve done that all season long. I never know who’s going to score, but I know someone is going to score.”
Johnson’s limited playing time has corresponded with the acquisition of Argentine striker Maximiliano Urruti and the development of young Colombian Jose Valencia. It’s given Porter four legitimate options at that position, in addition to English Premier League veteran Frédéric Piquionne.
And against Seattle, in a matchup Porter knew would be physical, he felt like Johnson was just the right choice.
“To me it made a lot of sense to go with Ryan Johnson,” Porter said. “He’s done well in training and he scored a goal off the bench in our last game. But more important than that, we felt his strength in the air, his physicality, ability to hold the ball up, his athleticism, his pace and power was a good matchup against [Sounders defenders Jhon Kennedy] Hurtado and [Djimi] Traore.”
Johnson’s goal came on a perfectly timed cross on the right wing from Jack Jewsbury, with the 28-year-old able to muscle his way near post for the nifty headed flick.
“It just shows that we have a really tough will to win those battles,” Johnson said of the goal.
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.