The curious case of Ryan Johnson

Last night against Houston, San Jose had arguably their best game of the season, a gritty 2-1 win over their new rivals. I've written about their lack of forward production, but they got two goals yesterday and created many dangerous chances. This is mostly because of one key lineup change - 23 year old Jamaican utilityman Ryan Johnson started at forward and proceeded to use his size and speed to bother the Houston defense all night. Although he had been quite effective as a reserve in previous games this season, this was his breakout game and it probably won him a place in the starting 11 until further notice. His stock appears to be rising rapidly. 
So why is this relevant up here in Seattle? Well, what most people may not know is just how close Johnson came to being a Sounder this year in USL. According to Adrian Hanauer about a month ago, "Ryan Johnson was on his way to Seattle for a trial... literally itinerary arranged... and Frank Yallop called him and got him to SJ. Unfortunately, the MLS clubs have more pull when it comes to a young talented player like that. He was definitely on our radar though." With Seattle currently needing help at forward as well, this becomes even more of an unfortunate missed opportunity. It also shows just how great of a difference there is between the USL and MLS, at least in the perception of most players - Johnson was happy to ditch the USL champs at the drop of a hat to go to an MLS expansion team.

Ryan Johnson is a player that I (and probably Hanauer) have been hoping to pick up in next years expansion draft. So while his breakout game is a good sign of the natural talent we saw in him, it obviously may make him that much more valuable to San Jose, and maybe valuable enough to protect him and not allow him to be drafted by Seattle after this season. Even if we can't pick him up, he's the type of player we should be targeting for 2009 - young, talented (if somewhat raw) and with lots of upside. 

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