TUKWILA — Sounders FC acquired Eddie Johnson to be the perfect complement at forward to Fredy Montero, the team’s leading scorer over the past three seasons.
And so far this season, the addition of Johnson, a former U.S. National Team player who went from Major League Soccer to Europe five years ago, has been a huge success for Seattle. What hasn’t materialized, however, at least not yet, is a highly-productive partnership between Montero and Johnson. Yes, the duo has seen plenty of playing time together, and been dangerous at times, but Johnson’s best results of late have come with Mauro Rosales acting as Seattle’s other forward, not Montero.
When Montero had to sit out a game against New England after receiving a red card in Portland, Rosales started at forward and assisted on a first-half goal that would be one of the two Johnson scored in that game. With Montero out of the starting lineup again Saturday night and Rosales again paired with Johnson at forward, Johnson scored off a Rosales assist for his team-leading eighth goal. Johnson has scored five of Seattle’s last seven goals in league play, and is averaging 0.62 goals per 90 minutes, a rate of production that ranks sixth in the league amongst players who have started at least 10 games.
“I think Mauro has four assists on my goals,” Johnson said after Saturday’s game. “I think that just repetition — playing games, playing with certain people, and getting an understanding of what they like to do when they get the ball. I think Mauro and I are starting to build a good relationship.”
Now, Johnson saying that about Rosales doesn’t mean he has a bad relationship with Montero — all parties involved agree that the team is best off if all three of those players are playing well together, not just some combination of them — but at the moment, it seems like Johnson and Rosales have a good thing going at forward.
“Mauro has played underneath there now in two games, the one in New England and at home here against Colorado, and we scored two goals in each game,” said Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid. “… His work rate has definitely gone up, his fitness level has, he’s been working hard, even when he played on the flank in Salt Lake, so I’m very pleased with that. His play now is getting very close to where his play was last year at this time.”
Rosales, Johnson and Montero are three of Seattle’s most talented players, and Schmid would much rather have all three on the field at the same time with Rosales in his more traditional role in the midfield. Rosales’ versatility means Montero can take a break every now and then, but the goal going forward isn’t to figure out which two of that trio are best together, but rather getting the most out having all three on the field at the same time.
“His talents are complimentary to what Mauro does, and they’re also complementary to what Fredy does,” Schmid said of Johnson. “It’s just a matter of making sure that they find each other and they help each other.”
And while some saw Montero’s exclusion from the lineup as a sign that he was being punished, Schmid says it was simply a break both physically and mentally for Montero, who leads the team in games and minutes played.
“Sometimes taking a step back opens up your eyes,” Schmid said. “Sometimes it’s good to get a little bit of a break, because he’s played a lot of minutes and a lot of games for us. I know immediately the reaction is, ‘Oh, it must have been a punishment or something must have happened.’ No, it’s just a different way of, hey, let’s look at it, let’s reevaluate it. He’s been our leading goal scorer for three years, he’s the leading goal scorer in the franchise’s history. … But watching from the outside let’s everybody take a different view and a deep breath and you come back better.”
With a U.S. Open Cup semifinal game Wednesday, another league game Sunday, and half a season remaining, there will be more chances for Montero and Johnson to improve both individually and as a goal-scoring duo. And even if Johnson takes away some scoring chances from Montero, everyone agrees the team will be better off in the long run with two dangerous goal scorers up front than one.
“It’s good,” Montero said. “It’s good for the team, it’s good to have those kind of players where you know they can score goals. I’m happy, you know? The team needs those kind of players. We know Eddie Johnson can score more goals than he has scored now, and this is going to be the beginning of a great season for us.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.