TACOMA, WA— The Tacoma Stars and Wenatchee Fire were separated by just two points in the standings and it was even closer on the scoreboard, a 4-4 halftime standoff last Saturday night at the Wenatchee Valley Sportsplex. Then the right move allowed the right player to turn the match on its head. When the smoke had cleared Derek Johnson of the Stars had scored five goals and added an assist in a 12-6 Tacoma triumph. Derek’s display earns him Western Indoor Soccer League Player of the Week honors for the fourth week of WISL play.
“At halftime, (General Manager and acting Head Coach) John Crouch asked us to clean up our movement and to be more precise in our running,” Derek tells WISLnews.com. “As soon as that happened space opened which allowed me to go at them. Also, John made a slight change to our rotations which allowed me to have more shifts in the second half.”
Johnson felt like it was his moment. “I think an attacker can sense when a game is going to provide opportunities to score. The important piece is being prepared to finish those opportunities. I told John Crouch at halftime that I felt I could score several goals in the second half. Our assistant coach, Alejandro Charif, could also sense it. He encouraged me at halftime and told me I could take over the game.”
“We had Derek on a three-man line in the first half but realized it was important to get he and Jamael Cox on the field more consistently to create more attack danger,” says Crouch. “We also pointed out some opportunities for our players tactically that would help create attack.”
That’s just what happened. After scoring a goal in the first half and also assisting on a PJ Vargas goal, Derek added one in the third quarter and then a hat trick in the fourth quarter to propel Tacoma’s run-away win. Kyle Danielson and Jamael Cox scored two each alongside Johnson’s outburst.
“We had great preparation from training under Darren Sawatzky (during the week),” Johnson says. “Our successful passing and combination play was a result of what Darren coached all week long. On the field, Joe Jarzynka played a fantastic ball off the boards for one of the goals. Danny Minniti had great vision on our power play for his assist. All three of our target forwards were huge in this game too. I could always rely on Vince McCluskey, Chris Raymond and Kyle Danielson to hold the ball up top for me.”
Derek, now 22, has pretty-much grown up with the Stars, playing for the PASL version while he was still in high school (Franklin Pierce, Tacoma) and then also in college (Pacific Lutheran.) “It was definitely a game I will not forget anytime soon! It reminds me a lot of a six-goal game I had a few years ago. They were both very attacker-friendly games. However, with the score tied at halftime, my performance in Wenatchee was probably more important for my team.” Johnson also scored five in a match for the South Sound Shock back in 2013.
John Crouch has seen Johnson mature as a player over the years. Derek’s one constant is his strong work ethic. “I have a special place in my heart for Derek as he embodies so much of what I believe in for successful players,” says Crouch. “He is a hard worker and a physical specimen of strength, speed and scoring danger. Derek has been at the center of the soccer I have organized in the area. The South Sound FC U20/U23 team started with Derek and a team he built the year prior and has grown into so much more with the building of the EPLWA and consistent trips to the U23 USASA National Tournament.”
Speaking like a surrogate soccer-father, Crouch concludes: “If there were a player I’d like to see be rewarded for the heart and work rate he has, and all-out constant effort to be a pro, I’d put Derek Johnson at the top of my list.”
Previous Players of the Week: Danny Romero, Willie Spurr and Andrew Weishaar.