But with United capping a busy stretch and the Luis Silva-Fabian Espindola duo thriving up top, Johnson played his first club match as a sub in more than a year Sunday. After entering in the 66th minute, he scored his fifth goal of the MLS season to ice United's 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls at RFK Stadium.
"The coach already told us before these games that he was going to be rotating players around," Johnson said. "At the end of the day, we're all a team. We've talked about being a team that has depth, and today it really showed."
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With the win, United (14-8-4) ended a stretch of five games in 15 days in all competitions. In addition to winning its CONCACAF Champions League opener on a Johnson strike, United went 3-1-0 in league play to take a four-point lead atop the Eastern Conference.
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After serving a suspension during wins over Colorado and Kansas City (and starting the Champions League match in between), Johnson returned to the United lineup with 90 minutes in a midweek loss at the LA Galaxy. But coach Ben Olsen went with Silva and Espindola against the rival Red Bulls after United had scored 11 goals in their first three starts together.
Sure enough, Espindola's flick-on header set up Silva's 57th-minute opener.
"This is a three-week process of guys managing minutes," Olsen said. "There's a lot that's going into this other than, 'All right, we're going to bench E.J.' From a minutes standpoint, Fabi and Luis were a little lighter in that department and their rhythm together has been good lately."
With United protecting the lead late, Johnson got on the score sheet as well. As Perry Kitchen hit an over-the-top ball, Johnson made a perfectly timed run to burn the New York back line before chipping Luis Robles.
"During my suspension, the team got some great results," Johnson said. "When you come back, you don't want to drop that level."
Although United will enjoy a full week of rest before traveling to face the Vancouver Whitecaps on Saturday, the congested schedule continues with 11 games over the last eight weeks of the season. With Silva, Espindola and Johnson battling for two spots up top and former All-Star midfielder-forward Chris Pontius nearing his return from hamstring surgery, United feels good about its attacking options.
"It's massive," goalkeeper Bill Hamid said. "It shows that we have depth, it shows that we're getting guys back from injury. I feel like with this squad, with this group of players, with the talent that we have, the best is yet to come."