Houston Dynamo's Jason Johnson returns to MLS action with lessons learned from Pittsburgh Riverhounds loan

Amid the team’s disappointment at the loss to the San Jose Earthquakes last weekend there was personal satisfaction for Jason Johnson when he logged his first MLS minutes of the season.

The speedy 23-year-old will hope for a second outing in orange this year on Sunday as the under-strength Dynamo visit the Colorado Rapids (7 p.m. CT, CSN) for their penultimate MLS game before the World Cup break.

With the roster almost at full health at the start of the season and rookie Mark Sherrod making an instant impact, Johnson was one of several players sent on loan to the Pittsburgh Riverhounds, the Dynamo’s USL Pro affiliate.

He was a regular starter with Pittsburgh, seeing match action that likely would have been scarce if he had remained in Houston. “I can say I’ve learned things since I’ve been there, and with the feeling of being more competitive, I think that was a good couple of weeks for me,” he told HoustonDynamo.com this week. “I was missing playing in the top-flight, so I’m pleased to be back … I think it was good to get back that MLS feeling.”

The Jamaican came off the bench at Buck Shaw Stadium as a half-time substitute for Andrew Driver in the Earthquakes’ 3-0 victory—taking the number of Reggae Boyz internationals on the field to five. “We wanted to try and get some energy on the left hand side, Andrew was struggling a little bit with a calf [problem], and it was an easy sub for us,” head coach Dominic Kinnear told reporters.

“Just told him to come in, give us some good energy, try and stretch the field, get at the full back, I think he did that every now and again.”

Last year, his rookie season, Johnson made 13 regularseason appearances for Houston (four starts) and scored against the New York Red Bulls at BBVA Compass Stadium in September. His pace and ebullience makes him an option on the wing or in a central striker’s role. With plenty of raw attributes, the task now for Johnson is to mature into a player who delivers on the field on a consistent basis, making the leap from promising to productive.

“I think it’s more of a mindset. Obviously when you have more confidence things flow easier for you. Knowing what to do in different situations: confidence helps a lot with that. I’m getting more confidence each time I step out on the field with these guys,” he said.

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Defender Eric Brunner is returning to full fitness after ankle surgery and was named on the bench in San Jose. While depth at center back is not a problem, the Dynamo are more shallow in midfield and attack with the continued absences of Ricardo Clark (concussion), Tony Cascio and Sherrod (knee) and Brad Davis and Boniek García (World Cup). Brian Ownby is still suspended after his red card against D.C. United.

Not that Sunday’s opponents are at full strength, either, especially in attack. Colorado are missing forwards Gabriel Torres, Edson Buddle and Vicente Sanchez. The Rapids had a mixed set of results in May: beating the Los Angeles Galaxy and Montreal Impact, drawing with the Earthquakes and losing to Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake.

Matches around this time have a certain intrigue thanks to irregular line-ups, according to Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall. As during last summer’s Gold Cup, many MLS teams are without their top players. That gives lesser-known names a chance to claim the spotlight.

“During this World Cup [build-up] when players are missing we’re looking for players to step up and so it creates an interesting challenge scouting against a team because you have some unknown variables and you have some people that could play out of their minds, better than you expect,” said Hall.

“It’s kind of an interesting time. So you just prepare yourself for whatever lies ahead because you could be facing a guy that no one knows about who comes on the scene in a big way, and the same for us. Guys could step on the field and make some waves.”

Sunday concludes a three-game road swing that has seen defeats to D.C. and the San Jose Earthquakes. But the Dynamo won’t be collecting many air miles in the coming weeks. After Colorado, Houston return to BBVA Compass Stadium to host Sporting Kansas City on June 6 (TICKETS), then the Laredo Heat in the U.S. Open Cup five days later for a doubleheader with the Houston Dash’s NWSL game against Western New York Flash (TICKETS).

Then there’s a near-three-week, league-wide pause during the early stages of the World Cup. In fact, after Sunday, Houston have only two more MLS away fixtures before the trip to Seattle Sounders on August 10. After the past two losses, Hall is especially keen for Houston to make the most of this weekend’s road trip.

“The last little bit for us has not been what we expect so this is an important time for us, just mentally—not because there’s a break ahead but because we want to win, we want to get back to winning,” he said. “Winning’s fun, I want to have fun playing soccer again.”