Q&A With Stars Forward Derek Johnson

by Brett Gleason

As a native of Tacoma, Washington, Derek Johnson understands the love of soccer that consumes the Pacific Northwest. Johnson, 24, is no stranger to experience on the soccer field. Lacing up the cleats for Pacific Lutheran University, Johnson ended his career with the Lutes top 10 all time in goals scored, assists, game winning goals, and points. He was also named First Team All-NWC twice and First Team All-West Region once. After his years competing at PLU, Johnson played briefly in Sweden before returning to play in the Major Arena Soccer League. The Stars forward looks to continue the success built during the 2015 with a dominate season this winter at the ShoWare Center.


Tacoma Stars: How did you start playing for the Tacoma Stars?

Derek Johnson: I signed with the Stars ahead of their inaugural season in the MASL.  I previously played under Coach Darren Sawatzky with the Sounders U23, so joining him indoors was a natural progression for my career.


TS: What position do you play for the Stars and how long have you been involved in the club?

DJ: I played in both forward and midfield roles for the Stars last season. I prefer playing underneath the striker as a second forward or midfielder, making runs off of the target player. I feel that I am most dangerous when facing the goal and having the ability to combine with the target. At the age of 24, I have quite a few indoor seasons under my belt. I began playing for the old PASL Stars when I was 17 years old. During college I played for South Sound FC in the PASL. However, my involvement in the club goes back to my dad. He was a huge fan of the old MISL team and I grew up listening to stories about Zungul and Preki. No one in my family had ever played or been involved in soccer before, but because of the original Stars, I was introduced to the game. Even though the team folded the same year I was born, I've always felt like I have a strong connection to the original club.


TS: Tell us a little bit about yourself, are you from the region? Where did you play growing up?

DJ: I grew up in Tacoma and played at Franklin Pierce HS and PLU. Growing up, I played club soccer for South Hill Revolution under Darin Hanson from U11 all the way through U18. Not every player can say they did that, but I had a coach and an environment that helped me grow as a player and an individual. Darin helped me develop a love for the game and gave me so many opportunities to learn. We were not the biggest club, but being the underdog taught me how to fight for what I want.


TS: You had a great career playing professional outdoor soccer. Tell us about that and some of the highlights?

DJ: I had a great experience playing college soccer at Pacific Lutheran. I have a fantastic mentor in Coach John Yorke who really developed me as a player and a person. My experiences at PLU took me out of my comfort zone and pushed me to another level in my life.


TS: How is playing outdoor different from the indoor game?

DJ: Outdoor soccer is like a marathon and indoor soccer is like a ton of sprints. There is more of an ebb and flow to an outdoor game and sometimes it can take 90 minutes to find a breakthrough. I think indoor soccer is different because a game can change at any moment. In outdoor, you have 10 guys to back you up if you make a mistake. However, in indoor soccer you only have five others on the field. That means when you make a mistake you usually get punished with a goal.


TS: Let’s tell the fans about what have you been up to in the offseason or what you do outside the Tacoma Stars?

DJ: During the offseason I have been working hard on my real estate business at Keller Williams in Tacoma. I am a first generation soccer player, but a fourth generation realtor. I actually had the opportunity to help a few Stars fans find new homes lately. I'm excited about growing my business and using it to give back to the local soccer community in Tacoma. In my free time after work, I coach U14 boys at Franklin Pierce Soccer Club.


TS: What do you like most about playing for this team?

DJ: I love the group of people that Coach Sawatzky has assembled. Every player is not only a great soccer player, but a great guy. I really believe character reveals itself in competition and you could see the character of our players come out in big games last year. We all became really close last season, on the road and in the locker room.  This revealed itself in our defending and work rate. We all want each other to succeed, so we are willing to make sacrifices for each other to get the job done. Being from Tacoma, I love being able to represent my city. I get chills walking into the locker room and seeing the white, blue, and orange jersey with my last name on it. When I put on the jersey I do not just feel like I am playing for my fans. I feel like I am playing for my family, friends, and community. We have such incredible supporters and the bond between us is as close as it gets.