Johnson contributing in different ways

Still scoreless this season, the striker fills a different role

In recording a team-high 11 goals for the San Jose Earthquakes in 2009, Ryan Johnson never went more than four matches between scores. So when the 27-year-old opened 2010 without finding the back of the net in any of the Quakes’ first five matches, his reaction was familiar to anyone who’s ever played up top.

“He’s a goal-scorer, and he wants to score,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop said. “He just wants to get off the mark this season. I know him.”

Here’s how upside-down Johnson’s season has been: What was supposed to be a trap in the 33rd minute of San Jose’s 1-0 win over Colorado on Saturday became a savvy redirection for only his fifth assist in 73 career MLS matches.

In 2009, Johnson probably would have cleanly handled the pass from Ramiro Corrales and put his own strike on net. In 2010, his glancing blow perfectly set up Chris Wondolowski to run onto the ball and fire it home on the bounce.

“I was trying to bring it down, but it was one of those things where it’s the luck of the draw,” Johnson said. “Sometimes it falls for you, sometimes it doesn’t. And it’s great that it’s falling for Wondo. All it’s doing is giving us wins, and that’s what makes everybody happy.”

Johnson admits to frustration with the zero next to his name on the stat sheet, but says it’s tempered by the Quakes’ 3-2 start. He thought he was on the board against Chivas USA when he got a solid header on a San Jose corner kick, only to watch it catch the crossbar and bounce away. Another chance cropped up in the second minute against the Rapids when Chris Leitch seemed to set Johnson free with a lead pass. Last season, it would have been a done deal as Johnson would have deked Matt Pickens then slipped the ball in for an easy goal. This time, Colorado defender Marvell Wynne came zooming into the picture, delivering a shoulder-to-shoulder bump that left Johnson cleanly dispossessed.

“As long as the chances are happening and I’m not going through games and not even getting anything on target, then that’s something to look positive to,” Johnson said. “It’s going to fall, it’s going to happen. I’ve just got to keep believing.”

Yallop has shown his faith in Johnson—and taken advantage of Johnson’s health while much of the Quakes’ striking corps has gotten hurt—by making him one of only four field players to start every game so far this season. (Bobby Convey, Ramiro Corrales and Jason Hernandez are the others.) And the coach plans on putting him out there again Saturday against New York, even though Johnson hasn’t converted any of his five shots on goal.

“He’s had his chances,” Yallop said. “I don’t think he’s not had a chance to score. It’s about confidence, it’s about getting his look. Once he gets his (first) goal, he’ll be fine.”

In some instances, concern or worry or panic drives a forward in the midst of a scoreless string to get greedy for shots, or wreck a play by trying too hard to score on his own. Instead, Johnson has channeled his dissatisfaction into helping out on defense and slipping in the odd pass when the opportunity presents itself. He uncorked a gorgeous pass between three defenders to set up Wondolowski’s goal against New England on April 17.

“The longer someone goes, the more frustrated he can get, but I don’t see it in Ryan’s play at the moment,” Yallop said. “He’s not snatching at things. He’s had a few looks to score, so I expect Ryan to get on the sheet soon.”

Johnson takes heart in the cyclical nature of strikers, pointing out the 2009 experience of fellow Jamaica native Jeff Cunningham, who had 13 of his league-high 17 goals on or after August 1.

“When it comes to strikers, when you’re hot, you’re hot and once you’re cold, you’re cold,” Johnson said. “Look at a guy like (Jeff) Cunningham, he’s the best example. Last year, he hardly had any goals, and then all of the sudden, after summertime, he just went on a tear. It could happen for any of us.”

For Johnson, though, it just can’t happen soon enough.

Geoff Lepper covers the Earthquakes for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached at sanjosequakes@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter: @sjquakes