SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Returning to her old stomping grounds, former Santa Clara standout Julie Johnston directed home an acrobatic finish en route to a 3-0 American shutout against the Republic of Ireland yesterday afternoon at Avaya Stadium in nearby San Jose, Calif.
"It's fantastic to even be back in the San Jose area where I went to college," said Johnston in a postgame interview. "It's kind of a dream come true and to score and have such a great start to the Send-Off games is truly special for me."
Holding a 2-0 lead in the 54th minute, Lauren Holiday launched a corner kick towards the near post and Johnston - making a darting run from the center of the box - beat her marker, jumped into the air, and finished the score with a nifty right-footed finish.
"I just ran through to the near post and it was a perfect driven ball," said Johnston. "Lauren Holiday hit such a great service and I couldn't get my head to it so I tried to use my toe and I think my pinky toe touched it just enough to get it in, so I'll take it."
The former Bronco has now scored three goals in as many games even while playing at the right center back position, working each and every day to earn a starting spot for the upcoming 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup.
Santa Clara Head Coach Jerry Smith has been right there with Johnston during this time in her career, supporting his former player every step of the way.
"I enjoyed spending time with Julie's family prior to the match, and enjoyed watching Julie perform so well during the match," he said. "Although she's the youngest starter on the team, she playing like a seasoned veteran. I know she'll look for ways to continue her improvement in order to do her part in helping the United Stated win the World Cup this summer. Julie makes us very proud."
Despite her youth, the 23-year-old is also catching the eyes of her fellow teammates in the lead up to the upcoming pinnacle event for the sport.
"Julie is a warrior back there," said midfield Carli Lloyd. "She communicates and even though she's one of the younger players she's not afraid to communicate and just offer guidance back there. I think she's taken her opportunity and seized it so it's good."
Johnston's fellow member in the back line, Ali Krieger, also offered similar thoughts.
"She's scoring more than some of our forwards are scoring," she said. "She's great at attacking those set pieces and that's what her job is and she's there to score when we need it and I think those are going to win us games when we're in the World Cup."
After playing in front of a sold out crowd of 18,000 American supporters yesterday in the first match of the Send-Off series, the United States will now travel to Southern California for a contest against Mexico on Sunday.