SANDY — Damir Kreilach didn’t see Sam Johnson.
He might have been the only one — in the stadium and on the pitch.
Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak stole the ball and was flying down the right side; it was a major RSL breakaway. First, it was two on one, then three on one, and finally four RSL players were coming into the box against just one defender.
Rusnak had plenty of options — he went with Kreilach. Rusnak sent a low cross to Kreilach who gave the ball a soft first touch and prepared to shoot.
He never got the shot off. The touch was just enough for Johnson to swoop in and fire the ball into the back of the net to help RSL to a 2-0 win over Sporting Kansas City Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
RSL improved to 7-8-2 on the season and remain in eighth place in the Western Conference with 24 points.
“To be honest, I didn’t see him,” Kreilach said after chuckling when asked about the goal. “The most important thing is he scored the ball. And every one of us should be happy.”
And no one should be happier than Johnson, who scored two goals on Saturday and openly admitted that he probably sniped one from his teammate.
“Yeah, I think I stole it from him,” Johnson said, smiling. “I think I stole it from him.”
It’s a striker mentality to finish off plays — that’s what Johnson. But it also might be a sign that the forward from Liberia is growing more and more comfortable with RSL.
“I have encountered a number of players, who come from different countries, different cultures, different philosophies, different playing styles, different everything, and for the most part, it takes a while for the adjustment period to set in,” Real coach Mike Petke said. “If you ask me if he’s getting more comfortable, I think so. It looks like he is. The more comfortable he gets, the better we are going to play as a team.”
Johnson, who now has seven goals on the season, sure looked comfortable on Saturday. And if how RSL played is a sign of things to come, good things could be in Real’s future.
It was one of RSL’s most complete games of the year.
The attack was dangerous with all five shots coming within the box. Real even had a Kreilach header goal taken off the board after VAR ruled him offside. That wasn’t the only near miss of the night, either. Everton Luiz sent a ball just wide, Rusnak sent a blast right at the keeper and on and on it went.
On defense, they rarely allowed a good chance leading to a clean sheet. That defensive effort came from everywhere, including Johnson.
“For me, his defensive work was better than I’ve seen,” Petke said.
His first goal was pretty good, too.
In the 15th minute, Rusnak lofted a corner to the other end of the box and that began a memorable sequence.
Kreilach volleyed it toward the center of the box before Kyle Beckerman headed it towards the post. That’s where Johnson was waiting and ready to knock it into the net.
“It actually worked yesterday in the training session,” Rusnak said. “Not the same way, not involving four players, but we’ll take it.”
Said Johnson: “They always say practice makes perfect, so I think it came to pass.”
And so did a win.