After taking a break to concentrate on the MLS Cup, College Soccer and other soccer doings, this week GotSoccer checks back in with the latest edition of the Brazil 2014 Spotlight, when we take a look at Eddie Johnson.
The peripatetic Johnson is on the move yet again, traded to DC United from Seattle, just one year removed from leading the Sounders in goals en route to winning the MLS Comeback Player of the Year award.
Not too long ago the idea of Eddie Johnson playing for the U.S. in the 2014 World Cup was the longest of longshots. Johnson had taken himself out of the national team picture with a disastrous move to Fulham in the English Premier League.
After establishing himself in MLS with the Kansas City Wizards and with the U.S. MNT, as a brilliant athlete with an eye for goal, Johnson made the move to London. Johnson could outrun you or out jump you, and in joining a team so Yank friendly that it had acquired the nickname Fulhamamerica, his adjustment should have gone well. It didn’t. Brian McBride, Clint Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra and Kasey Keller all had productive years at the Cottage, but it never happened for Johnson.
EJ was on the books at Fulham from 2008-2011, but the striker appeared just 19 times without scoring a goal. Fulham sent Johnson on several loan stints, where he was better, but not by much. When he finally came back to MLS in 2012, Johnson signed with Seattle after rejecting an earlier offer from the league, and also seeing an offer from Mexico rescinded in mysterious circumstances.
The Fulham experience bruised Johnson’s reputation, and the one time super prospect came back to MLS fighting to salvage his career. Johnson did just that, leading Seattle in goals while winning the league’s Comeback Player of the Year Award, for the second time. Johnson also won the award in 2006 while with Kansas City.
Johnson’s play caught Jurgen Klinsmann’s eye, and he earned a recall last October. On October 12, 2012 in Johnson’s first game under Klinsmann, the U.S. played the tiny nation of Antigua and Barbuda in the semifinal round of Concacaf World Cup Qualifying. It should have been an easy W, but that was not how it played out.
That night in a driving rainstorm Johnson was the hero, scoring both U.S. goals, including the stoppage time winner. The U.S. had already lost to Jamaica and drawn with Guatemala in the semifinal round. A failure to beat Antigua and Barbuda could have put a serious crimp in the U.S. run to Brazil.
Johnson’s most recent previous goal for his country had come in June, 2008 in an 8-0 win over Barbados, but now he was firmly in the conversation for Brazil. Johnson solidified his place by scoring three goals in the final round of WCQ, including the opener against Mexico, in a 2-0 U.S. win in Columbus. That win assured the Americans of a place in Brazil, did it do the same for Johnson?
The new DC man faces competition for a place in Klinsmann’s 23, but the coach’s willingness to play Johnson as a wing, as well as in his natural striker role, could help Johnson find his way onto the U.S. charter flight to Brazil.
Recent struggles aside, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey are entrenched as lead attackers in the U.S. lineup. Johnson, Icelandic-American Aron Johannsson and Terrence Boyd lead the race for the final two or three forward positions. Klinsmann normally names five forwards, although Donovan is sometimes listed at forward, and at other times is grouped with the midfielders.
Herculez Gomez could work his way back into the picture, Chris Wondolowski is still on the fringes and someone like Juan Agudelo could potentially make a late run.
So, nothing is assured for Eddie Johnson. Why? For all of his talent Seattle still felt moving Johnson was the move to make. The Sounders were upset by Johnson’s “pay me” display after he scored a goal earlier in the season. Seattle chose to give Designated Player money to Ozzie Alonso, and they shipped Johnson to DC.
Johnson will need to perform for rebuilding United, who are said to be preparing a DP contract for their new striker. There are those who note that while Johnson fills the net against MLS and Concacaf competition, he flopped when faced with the rigors of the English Premier League.
In the end it will be up to Johnson, and Klinsmann. We won’t know until May, but for now Eddie Johnson is back in the conversation, and that in itself is a win for the well traveled goal scorer.