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Scouting Sam Johnson: Why is the new RSL forward a DP?

What will RSL’s Liberian signing bring to the field?

With the signature of Sam Johnson officially in the books, and the news that he’s a designated player garnering not just a little attention, we’re all left with a few questions.

First, is Sam Johnson of the same quality that, say, German Cano would have been for RSL? Obviously we can only measure potential very vaguely. There’s a lot we can’t know here. But I do think we can illustrate some points about this.

Second, is Sam Johnson a designated player-worthy signing?

Finally, what will Johnson bring to Real Salt Lake? Is he the sort of player that can make a difference to our team? Will he fit with who we have?

Let’s chat.


Taking a browse through Johnson’s stats shows us a player that’s a pretty reasonable goalscorer. His goalscoring rate — about once every other game — is very similar to what Alvaro Saborio produced while he was here, and while I’m certainly not saying he’s going to be as impactful as Saborio, I think we can see that the numbers aren’t negative here.

Watching highlights show a player with a broad range of finishing ability, too. He’s finishing with his feet and with his head; he’s finishing from the run of play and from counterattacks.

Also, there does exist a song about Sam Johnson. Cool.

A designated player?

So this one’s pretty clear-cut to me. We paid a transfer fee for Johnson, which immediately puts him in potential designated player territory. We currently have two on roster: Albert Rusnak and Jefferson Savarino. That leaves us with an open slot, and there are some pretty distinct benefits to signing designated players instead of just buying their salary budget impact down with Targeted Allocation Money.

Additionally, if my read of MLS rules is right — it’s usually not, but let’s pretend here — we should be able to use allocation money at a later point to move him out of a designated player slot. If we can manage to do that midseason, it could mean we spend less to do that.

If that is indeed how it works out, Johnson exists in the funny middleground between TAM player and DP player, and we could certainly use more players of that quality. (And better — don’t get me wrong here.)

Team fit

While I don’t know from a personality perspective how Johnson will fit in with the team, I think we can safely say that our style actually fits Johnson fairly well. We’re steadily becoming a team for whom build-up play through the middle is of a lower priority than counterattacking play and wide attacking play, and Johnson looks not to be a build-up type player from the highlights.

Of course, we don’t really have any highlights from his time in China — I’ve been digging but to no avail. If you have anything, shout.

But I can say, I’m looking forward to seeing how Johnson works alongside players like Jefferson Savarino, Albert Rusnak and Joao Plata. This is why I’m leaning toward him being a great signing — but, again, the proof will be on the pitch.