By Don Ruiz The News Tribune
SEATTLE — Sounders FC leading scorer Eddie Johnson returned to training Monday and declared himself ready for Seattle’s must-win playoff match at Real Salt Lake on Thursday.
“I’ve come too far not to be a part of this special thing we’ve got going as a team,” he said. “We know how much it means to our fans and the organization: getting to next round. We know it’s not going to be easy. … We worked hard all year, set goals for these moments as a team, and we’re looking forward to the game.”
However, the good news concerning Johnson was mitigated by the Monday absence of midfielder Mauro Rosales, the team’s assist leader, who came out of the scoreless series-opener Friday due to an apparent hamstring injury.
“They wanted to do some testing and so forth,” coach Sigi Schmid said. “We have a chance to get him to play in the game on Thursday.”
Schmid was asked if there also was some doubt that Rosales would be ready.
“Possibly,” he said. “We have to look at what everything says, what the medical people say. And then we’ll have an idea exactly if he’ll be able to go. It’s like Eddie’s a little bit: It’s not as bad as we initially felt it was, maybe. So now it’s just a matter of seeing how he comes along.”
Johnson had waved himself out of the regular-season finale Oct. 28 at Los Angeles with what was eventually diagnosed as an adductor strain.
He could have played in the RSL series opener last week, but Schmid said the club decided to give him extra time to heal before what will be the deciding game in the Western Conference semifinal series.
Sammy Ochoa started in Johnson’s place Friday. But while he and his teammates had several good chances, none got past Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando.
It was RSL’s fourth shutout of Seattle in four meetings this season — and Johnson started two of those.
Now, the Sounders are taking consolation in the chances they created Friday, and saying they could advance if they can finally slip just one goal past Rimando.
“Rimando has proven year in and year out as one of the best goalkeepers in the league,” Johnson said. “He’s a great goalkeeper, but no one is invincible.”
The Sounders also believe their chances are better with the forward combination of Johnson and Fredy Montero, who combined for 27 goals this season.
“(Johnson’s) ability in the air can help us,” Schmid said. “His speed forces their defense to have to respect that a little bit more. His presence opens up space for Fredy Montero; Fredy Montero’s presence opens some space for Eddie. That’s something that’s a positive for us as well. He hasn’t scored 14 goals for no reason, and Fredy hasn’t score 13 goals for no reason. I think with each other they’re a very formidable duo, and they help feed off each other.”
Six of Johnson’s goals were assisted by Rosales. However, two were assisted by Montero, and that duo is eager to connect again.
“He scores the goals when I pass to him,” Montero said. “So that’s good for me; that’s good for the team. Hopefully, we just need one goal. That’s all we need to do there: defend and score one goal.”