With five matches complete in the 2017 National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), 62 goals have been scored. The Chicago Red Stars have only conceded four goals, the second fewest goals allowed in the league, and this is in large part thanks to the Red Stars extraordinary backline.

One of the leaders and most veteran players in the Red Stars defense is centerback Samantha Johnson. The tenacious defender has started every match this season, helping Chicago concede just four goals. A forward at PAC-12 powerhouse, University of Southern California (USC), Johnson has had to adapt to becoming a centerback.

Joining the team in 2014 after impressing in open tryouts, Johnson has been a mainstay in the backline since the beginning. Upping her field time each year, she played 20 of 21 matches last season, totaling 1,798 minutes for the Red Stars.

“I feel I’ve matured as a person throughout the last year,” said Johnson. “The core of the team has been together for the last three years. We finally understand one another on the field which will help us in crucial moments during season.”

Continuing to grow her game, Johnson has traveled to Australia on loan to Sydney FC (2014) and Melbourne Victory (2016) for the W-League during the NWSL offseason. While she achieves her personal goals on the field, she also has a heart to help young girls believe in their goals off the field.

“Personally I want to contribute my work in the community visiting schools and partnering with non-profits,” said Johnson. “Inspiring young girls is what I’m passionate about. It’s important for me to be a living example of what it means to be the best version of yourself every day. I’ve used my talent as a vehicle for success and hopefully I can help more girls find their talent to do the same.”

She has even taken the love of her goals and desires to the next level, donning the nickname “Dream” on all social media accounts. Johnson always had a “dream” to play soccer professionally and knew it would take a lot to make a career out of it.

“I’ve never been the ‘favorite’ player,” said Johnson. “I set out to do things that were doubted, which is ok, but I truly believed I could accomplish my soccer goals if I became an undeniable player and person… and I did. Dreaming and setting goals is something I’ve always done. I still set goals and pursue them under great pressure. But I’ve been told pressure is privilege so embrace it. In my own words, ‘failure is progress so why not dream.’”

And just like that, her dream became a reality when starting her first professional match for Chicago in 2014. Since then, Johnson has been part of the best backlines in the league, allowing just one goal against in the 2016 season and on track for to do even better in 2017.

Although being a California native and playing collegiately at USC, she loves everything Chicago is about.

“This is my fourth season in Chicago and I’ve fallen in love with the city,” said Johnson. “Typical Chicago sports teams have that blue collar mentality. I guess that’s exactly how I play. It’s not always pretty but it works.”

You can catch Sam Johnson and the Red Stars take on North Carolina Courage on May 21, at 3 p.m. CT at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary. Chicago returns to host the Courage on May 27 at 3 p.m. CT at Toyota Park. Tickets to the home match are available here.

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