Johnson grows into new role with RSL

Former attacking mid now a defensive grinder for champs

LEHI, Utah – Real Salt Lake are a team built around their midfielders, with more attention and responsibility placed on that group than maybe any other in MLS.

The big names belong to Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales, proven All-Stars who have a combined six goals and eight assists this season. The savvy veteran is Andy Williams. The super sub is Ned Grabavoy.

But Will Johnson – who last played as a forward and attacking midfielder in Holland before joining Real Salt Lake in 2008 via a trade with the Chicago Fire – is the group’s energy man, and a box-to-box grinder making a name for himself while changing the way he plays.

“I’ve evolved into this role,” Johnson said. “I realized that the harder I work, the better we do.”

Johnson has one goal and one assist this season, but he’s not necessarily being asked to contribute offensively to one of the league’s most dynamic teams. Instead he plays much the way Beckerman does, with a focus on backtracking and supplying defensive support while some of the team’s other stars do the work up top.

“Some guys, like myself, do a little more defensively so guys like [Morales] can put more into the attack,” Johnson said.

And his work is getting noticed. He logged a full 90 minutes in the club’s 3-0 romp over D.C. United last Saturday, and he’ll be leaned on heavily as RSL look to gain ground on the LA Galaxy, whose lead over RSL atop the Western Conference standings shrunk to six points over the weekend.

“I think [the effort Johnson displays] has trickled down from others,” Grabavoy said. “When we put the effort in, and do it consistently, we get results.”

For Johnson, there is an easy explanation for why he consistently gives the level of effort that he does, when others may succumb to fatigue and be willing to let their foot off of the pedal ever so slightly.

“I take a lot of pride in it,” Johnson said.