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Tuesday, August 20, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sounders may open playoffs without top goal scorer

By Tim Booth Associated Press

TUKWILA, Wash. – Seattle Sounders forward Eddie Johnson might miss the first leg of the MLS Western Conference semifinals against Real Salt Lake on Friday with a hamstring strain but should be able to play in the second leg on Nov. 8 in Utah.

Sounders coach Sigi Schmid said Tuesday that Johnson’s injury was less severe than first believed when he was forced to leave the regular-season finale on Sunday night against Los Angeles. Johnson had an MRI exam on Monday and Schmid called the injury a “hamstring tweak.”

“We wanted to go easy with him today and then see where he’s at tomorrow,” Schmid said. “It’s slight. It’s not nearly as bad as we had feared it might be. There’s an outside chance on Friday and for sure the second game shouldn’t be a problem.”

Johnson left the match against the Galaxy late in the first half. He said after the 1-0 loss that cost Seattle a shot at second place in the final conference standings that his hamstring tightened up on a number of runs earlier in the match and the smart thing was not push it and make the injury worse.

“We had thought based off the way he was feeling the day after that we didn’t think it was as bad and the MRI confirmed that,” Schmid said.

Johnson has had a breakout season in his return to MLS after struggling to find success playing in Europe. He led Seattle with 14 goals in the regular season and his play was good enough to earn a call-up to the U.S. national team for the first time in more than two years. Johnson proved his value on the international stage with two goals and an assist in World Cup qualifying wins over Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala.

If Johnson can’t play, Sammy Ochoa could be the likely candidate to start, although Schmid could shift his lineup and use David Estrada or Steve Zakuani in an attacking position. Ochoa started against Salt Lake on Oct. 17 when Johnson was returning off duty with the U.S.

Should Johnson not be able to play on Friday it would be the second straight year the Sounders start the playoffs short-handed. Last year Mauro Rosales was injured in the regular-season finale against Chivas USA and did not play in Seattle’s semifinal loss to Salt Lake.

“Certainly, we missed Mauro and if Eddie can’t play we’ll miss him but other guys have to step up and do the business,” Schmid said.

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