HERRIMAN — Look hard enough on any given Saturday, whether it be on an unkempt field or a well-kept pitch, and you’ll find a soccer game.
Sometimes that match will be found in Rio Tinto Stadium, featuring Real Salt Lake or Utah Royals FC playing at one of the highest levels of the sport found in this hemisphere.
In other cases, it’ll be a game played by barely-past-their-prime adults, recreation-style, hoping to relive their glory days.
Most readily found, replete with the classic soccer moms and orange slices, are those manic and adorable games featuring preschoolers.
More often than not, it is a parent that stalks the sideline during those contests, urging children on and offering comfort for scraped knees and hurt feelings.
For one team in Utah, however, the coach was none other than Herriman High School senior and boys soccer team captain Carter Johnson.
“Carter was my son’s under-5 rec soccer coach,” Herriman boys soccer coach Ryan Mitchell said. “I was so busy with club and high school (soccer) that I asked the boys if anyone would be willing to coach my son’s team. Carter was the first one to volunteer.”
As it turns out, that is just who Johnson is.
Need him to do something and he’ll do it, whether that play a season on a broken ankle (Johnson played his entire junior year injured), or fight through a title game while suffering from the flu (Johnson played his final high school game, at Rio Tinto in the 6A state championship, while severely under the weather), or yes, coach a team of precocious preschoolers.
It is that particular trait, an unselfish willingness to serve, combined with elite athleticism, excellent technical ability and a high-level soccer IQ that made Johnson the finest high school boys soccer player in the state this season, and the recipient of the 2018 Deseret News’ Mr. Soccer Award.
“He is everything you want in a high school athlete,” said Mitchell. “What Carter provided for us is irreplaceable. He is just a complete player.”
That was evident this season and in fact, throughout Johnson’s high school career.
When he first arrived at Herriman, the Mustangs were coming off a 4-11-1 season (2014) and were just one of many unremarkable soccer teams across the state.
Each year during his tenure, the Mustangs improved upon their win total, going from four wins to seven in 2015, from seven to 10 in ‘16, from 10 to 15 in ‘17 — a campaign that included the schools first ever appearance in the state championship game — and finally 15 to 19 this past season.
As his team improved, so did Johnson.
“He has been starting since he was a freshman, but this year and even last year tactically he has become a lot smarter,” said Mitchell. “He has grown a lot in the mental aspect of the game. He reads the game at a higher level than most kids his age. He has a super high soccer IQ. He was reading at a college level on the field when most kids are reading at a high school level.”
Johnson also grew physically, becoming a true force to be reckoned with on the pitch.
“Sometimes he’d look like a man playing with boys. He is just so strong,” said Mitchell. “He is technically very good with the ball, and he is just a super athlete. He is honestly the best of any I have ever coached.”
That growth allowed Johnson to score a team and classification-best 20 goals this season. He had his fair share of assists as well, including a four-assist game against Hillcrest, which he followed with a four-goal game against West Jordan.
No score, whether off his foot or that of a teammate, was more important to the Mustangs campaign than the one he scored against Bingham in the 6A semifinals.
Following a rain delay, in less than stellar playing conditions and with a berth in the state title game on the line, Johnson took it upon himself to break a scoreless tie and give his team an overtime victory.
“I think the 15 seconds that epitomized Carter the most (this season) was the overtime goal against Bingham,” said Mitchell. “He received the ball around midfield and dribbled through four or five players. It was like he said ‘I’ve had enough of this, we are going to win now.’ It was just ridiculous.”
“It wasn’t the prettiest game, but scoring that overtime goal to win it is probably my all-time favorite moment,” Johnson said. “I put us into the finals. It meant a lot.”
While his team ultimately fell short in the title game, losing on penalty kicks to the Pleasant Grove Vikings, winning Mr. Soccer is an excellent consolation prize.
“I’d always dreamt of playing high school soccer and winning a state championship,” said Johnson. “Playing high school soccer at Herriman has been the highlight of my life so far and I always wanted to give my team the chance to be successful.”
(Winning Mr. Soccer) means a lot. It means everything I have worked for is finally being seen and has paid off. This award is for my teammates who have been there our four years. It is my team’s award. I wouldn’t be here if not for the confidence my teammates had in me. They let me play my game and do my thing.”1 comment on this story
The next step for Johnson will be collegiate soccer at UVU, where he hopes to win a national title, as well as a mission for the LDS Church.
After that, it is professional soccer or bust.
“I want to go professional,” said Johnson. “That has always been my dream and I think it really is possible.”
“He is one of the few kids that I’ve coached that I’ve thought, yeah he is going to play professional soccer,” added Mitchell. “I think that there is no limit on what he can accomplish. He wants to play professional soccer. He wants to play at the highest level and I think he can.”