For the Red Stars, drafting Johnston has been one of their most important and valuable player signings in three NWSL seasons. While Red Stars Head Coach Rory Dames initially talked about playing Johnston in her natural position as a holding midfielder, her versatility allowed her to fill the role of center back for her new team.
“Julie was the driving force behind the (2012 U-20 World Cup winning) team,” Red Star coach Rory Dames said in piece on The Equalizer. “And she has shown throughout her college days that she can play anywhere on the field and play well at any position.”
She started her professional career with a goal in her debut game before proceeding to play in 21 matches for the Red Stars. Her offensive productivity tapered off from her college days; she managed 2 goals and 2 assists in 2014, but it was her defensive abilities that paved the way for her to earn that season’s Rookie of the Year award.
In 2013, she received her first cap with the senior team but the 107 minutes she played that year felt like nothing more then an obligatory attempt to expand the U.S. player pool. Her minutes did not feel validated by real opportunities to make an impact with the full team. Despite impressive performances with the Red Stars, Johnston found a difficult time cracking a spot with the full squad.
For nearly a year, she was left off the national team roster, even failing to make the cut for the 2014 U.S. CONCACAF Women’s Championship, the prelude to the World Cup. She would eventually replace an injured Crystal Dunn just days before the tournament but never suited up for the red, white and blue.
Towards the end of 2014, Johnston started to scrap together minutes as a utility player on the backline and in the midfield, but once again her minutes were not allowing her to earn significant experience or a fighting chance as a starter on the backline.
That changed in the 2015 Algarve Cup. The U.S. headed into 2015 with a revolving door of defenders as Head Coach Jill Ellis struggled to string together a reliable back line. The U.S. was in a constant flux of trying to find healthy players that could provide consistent performances.
In that tournament, Johnston was able to play substantial minutes for the national team. She started three of the team’s four games and made the game-winning goal against France to secure the U.S.’s 10th Algarve title.