TUKWILA, Wash. – Ever since Eddie Johnson entered the starting lineup, the Seattle Sounders have been waiting for him and Fredy Montero to really start connecting.
Although they’ve combined on three goals, the pair hasn’t looked entirely comfortable as a forward tandem. They have often competed for similar space on the field and have generally lacked the kind of chemistry that would fulfill their potential of being one of the most potent strike duos in the league.
The script may have finally flipped in Wednesday’s 4-1 win over Chivas USA in the US Open Cup semifinals. The two forwards worked off each other well all night, each setting up the other on a couple occasions for strong scoring chances, including Johnson's first goal.
“I think the understanding is growing together,” Schmid said following Thursday’s training session. “I think Eddie’s first goal was a really good example of the team being aware of his pace and timing on the ball pushed through by Ozzie [Alonso] is important. I think all those guys, as the team gets healthy, they are recognizing too that there’s competition. Everybody’s stepping up their game a little bit.”
Johnson’s improvement has easily been the most obvious.
After a somewhat slow start to the season, Johnson has now scored five goals in his past six matches across all competitions. Beyond those goals, Johnson has been one of the Sounders’ most dangerous players during that time, flashing the kind of form that made him a regular US national team member.
“I get pushed by these guys week in and week out,” Johnson said after Wednesday’s game. “The team has been patient with me, the organization has been patient with me, and the players.
“It’s frustrating when you don’t have a preseason with the team and it’s hard to get going from the beginning. My coaching staff believed in me, my teammates believed in me, and with that confidence everyone has in me it’s easy to when you’re out there on the field to just work hard.”
The emergence of Montero from a roughly one-month slump is a somewhat newer development. Montero started off the season as the obvious focal point of the team, but has struggled to find his role as Johnson has emerged as a real offensive force.
His play on Wednesday suggests he’s perfectly capable of fitting in. Aside from the run that set up Johnson’s goal, Montero came close to scoring a couple times. But it was his pass to set up Brad Evans’ goal that really seemed to trumpet a mentality change.
Instead of firing a shot from long distance, he chose to set up Evans, who was trailing the play to his right.
“Fredy drew some guys, like he always does," Evans explained, "acted like he was going to shoot – it kind of draws the keeper out of position – plays me in, I took a touch and just slammed it home."
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.