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Utah Royals FC center back Sam Johnson retires, plays final game against Reign FC

SANDY — Last June, Utah Royals FC made big headlines when it acquired United States Women’s National Team forward Christen Press via trade.

As part of the deal, URFC also received starting center back Sam Johnson from the Chicago Red Stars. That portion of the transaction received considerably less attention, but Johnson has been excellent for URFC in 14 total games despite mostly playing behind Becky Sauerbrunn and Rachel Corsie, who have represented their countries at the World Cup this summer.

Friday night, however, was Johnson’s last game, as she has decided to retire.

In actuality, the 28-year-old from Palmdale, California, known as “Johno” decided to step away from the game during the preseason. When the team couldn’t find a suitable replacement for her, however, she agreed to stay until the team could go on without her after the World Cup when Sauerbrunn and Corsie will return.

“I want to go on record to say that she didn’t have to do that,” URFC head coach Laura Harvey said after Friday’s game. “She could’ve walked away because she wanted to, if mentally she felt like it was the right time for her, but she stuck with it, she stuck with us and I think she’s been one of our most consistent players throughout this really tough (World Cup) period, and so we want to thank her for that and we wish her all the best in whatever her next endeavor is.”

Johnson declined to speak with media Friday.

Players also didn’t address Johnson’s departure directly (a question posed to Gunny Jonsdottir was cut off by public relations personnel), but a number of them posted tributes on their Instagram stories and came to the game dressed as she would have. Midfielder Mandy Laddish said in part, “She’s a fighter. She comes in and she crunches. We love Sam Johnson.”

Added Harvey: “She’s someone that they admire. They appreciate what she’s given to this team in this period.”

Harvey was disappointed that Johnson’s final game ended in a 2-0 loss to Reign FC, but noted how Johnson’s focus was to not make the night about herself and to do all she could over the past few months to train rookie center back Gaby Vincent.

“She didn’t want it to be about her tonight, so that says a lot about her,” Harvey said. “I’m disappointed for her that she goes out this way. I think she deserves more than that, but I’m also glad that we were able to do what we wanted to do for Johno in the right way.”