This season, freshman forward Katie Johnson, not related, has provided similarly explosive plays, using her vision in the penalty box to score three goals for the Women of Troy this season, including two in six minutes against No. 19 Portland on Sept. 16.
“They have a lot of similarities to their game,” USC coach Ali Khosroshahin said. “[Samantha] and Katie started clicking right away. Now they’re actually developing a good understanding of each other. Once they get a few games under their belt, you’re going to see some really neat things come from the two of them.”
The elder Johnson has already provided her fair share of heroics this season with two game-winning goals in the last 15 seconds of matches against San Diego and Washington.
“Most of the time I’m just kind of in the right place at the right time,” Samantha Johnson said. “It’s just about trying to use technique that [the coaches] taught me.”
The younger Johnson said she looks up to her elder.
“As a senior, she scores the clutch goals,” Katie Johnson said. “We trust her because she does the right things on the ball.”
Katie said Samantha, who’s totaled four goals this season, is a good mentor on the pitch for the 16 freshmen on the squad, helpsing adjust to the college game. That’s a luxury previous USC teams didn’t enjoy, according to Samantha.
When the older Johnson was a freshman, some of the upperclassmen on the squad had been on the 2007 team that won the NCAA title. One might expect that championship experience would rub off on the younger girls and bring the team closer together — but Johnson says it did the opposite.
“There was a big disconnect between the lowerclassmen and the upperclassmen,” Samantha Johnson said. “We didn’t have great leadership, so to speak … They were intimidating and never let their guard down. That’s why I make a conscience effort to help the younger players now.”
The younger Johnson noted the the leadership as well.
“Sam’s a natural leader,” Katie Johnson said. “She tells me where to be, how to stay connected. She’s really good at seeing the field and seeing the plays develop, and she’s helping me see that as well.”
The Johnsons came to USC with notable local pedigrees; both went to high school relatively near USC — Samantha in Palmdale, Katie in La Cañada — both were named All-Americans in high school and both achieved All-League status three times.
The pair also had to deal with injury issues coming into this season- Katie had to recover from a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered during her senior year in high school, while Samantha has been bothered by a persistent foot injury.
Khosroshahin didn’t initially think USC would have a Johnson and Johnson duo up front, since Samantha had mostly played at midfield at USC. But when she was switched to forward in a game against Cal State Northridge to minimize the stress on her foot, and ended up scoring the game-tying goal, Khosroshahin knew he had found something good.
“We only got to see glimpses of the two of them together, but we liked what we saw,” Khosroshahin said. “It’s been a treat to watch Sam’s play really improve, and to see her lead the group on the field has been a lot of fun.”
And since both are still working back to full speed, Khosroshahin thinks the best is yet to come for both players.
“I always say something special happens to kids in their senior year, with that finality of things,” Khosroshahin said. “It has a way of helping you focus a little bit more.”
Samantha Johnson seems focused on carving out a senior legacy of last-second comebacks — and Khosroshahin hints that Katie might have a comparable future.
“[Katie] is barely starting to find her rhythm and her touch right now,” Khosroshahin said. “I’m not real good at fortune telling, but I think if [Katie] continues to become a student of the game, and puts the time in, she definitely has the potential of doing some very special things here.”
If the younger Johnson keeps learning from the examples the older Johnson has set for her this season, those special things could happen sooner rather than later.