Real Salt Lake provide "grace period" for Sam Johnson as striker adapts

HERRIMAN, Utah – Sam Johnson is taking full advantage of head coach Mike Petke’s grace period.

Real Salt Lake’s new striker arrived from Norwegian side Valerenga over the winter and while he’s already scored four goals, has also courted a bit of controversy. But Petke is giving Johnson time to figure out the team, how to play with his teammates – and over the last two weeks, what is and isn’t acceptable in RSL’s locker room.

“There is a grace period,” Petke said. “The quicker you get him up to speed, the better it is for him and as well as the team.”

After a 2-1 home loss to Portland on May 5, Johnson voiced his displeasure with how often he saw the ball, and after scoring in a 3-2 win over Colorado, Johnson arrived late for a team meeting ahead of last Saturday’s match against Toronto FC. The penalty: The Liberian international was scratched from the starting lineup and was not used as a sub off the bench.

“There were things that he recognizes weren’t the right route to go and you move on,” Petke said. “There’s one checked off, and then here’s what’s expected.”

For Johnson’s part, he's already moved on and was grateful the team picked up three points even with his distraction.

“A lot of people only care about me being late, but they don’t care what happened,” he said. “I just let it go and focus on what is in front of me. I’m not going to tell people why I was late because I’m already done with it.”

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Johnson’s adjustment period hasn’t been easy for him either, but he’s feeling more and more comfortable on and off the field.

“Since I came here, the team has been a little difficult for me, but I try to deal with it and we’re getting there step by step. The point where I am now, I think it’s going good,” Johnson said.

Though there shouldn’t be any further effects of Saturday’s tardiness, Johnson understands that Petke is the one who controls whether he plays or not.

“Whatever direction he takes I’ll accept it,” Johnson said. “If he wants me to play, I’ll play. If he doesn’t want me to play, I’ll sit on the bench and watch the other guys. I’m ready for anything.”

Johnson has voiced his frustration at not clicking with his teammates, but he’s still been able to find the back of the net four times in his six starts. That hints at more to come if he and RSL can make it through some early growing pains.

“He understands more than he did the first day he got here and he’ll understand more a month from now,” Petke said. “It’s a work in progress communicating, not just with me, but with everyone he plays with. He’s contributing so far and I feel he’s going to contribute a lot more in the future.”