By John Boyle
Sounders FC forward Eddie Johnson was a spectator at Seattle’s 0-0 draw with Salt Lake Wednesday night, but that’s only because he was fresh off of writing the first chapter of what could become one heck of a comeback story. (A video of match highlights is below).
You probably know Johnson’s story by now, but just in case, here’s the very brief version: Johnson was one of the up-and-comers in American soccer early in his career and was a regular on the US National Team, including a spot on the 2006 World Cup squad. In 2007 Johnson signed with English Premier League side Fulham, and it looked like his career was just taking off, but he never found consistent success while bouncing around Europe, and also fell out of favor with the National Team, for which he last played in 2010.
Johnson almost landed in Mexico last year, but ended up deciding to return to Major League Soccer. When Seattle made a trade with Montreal before the season to acquire Johnson, it was considered a risky move, but he has rewarded the team in a big way, scoring a team-record 14 goals this season (so far). His career revival was impressive enough for U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann to take notice, and last week Johnson made his first National Team appearance since 2010. In his return to national team duty, Johnson got a start playing as a winger, not a forward, and made Klinsmann look like a genius for his decision, scoring both goals in a 2-1 win over Antigua and Barbuda on Friday. Four days later, Johnson was back in the starting lineup, and for the better part of 90 minutes he was one of the most dangerous players on the field in his team’s 3-1 win over Guatemala. In Tuesday’s game, Johnson provided the assist on the game-winning goal, setting up Clint Dempsey, his closest friend on the team.
Following Wednesday’s game, Johnson spent a few minutes with reporters talking about his experience with the national team.
What was the experience like
“It was a great experience. Anytime you get to go and represent your country in two important games in two world cup qualifiers where we had to get results. So A, It was good to get called in to the camp, B, it shows how confident the coach was in bringing me and the rest guys in to get the job done, and credit to all my teammates and everyone here in Seattle for the opportunity to put myself in position to be successful.”
Does anything feel different?
“I guess being in the camp and training and competing at that level for the time that we were together, I think missing that, where you’re playing with what are considered the best players in your country and competing, pushing each other on a day to day basis, I missed that. That’s where every player wants to be at, where every American player wants to be at. To be a part of that was special.”
Did a return to the national team raised your confidence
“Nah, I think I got my confidence here. The coach bringing me here and sitting me down and telling me his expectations—what they’re trying to achieve here as a club and their goals of winning an MLS Cup, and bringing me and making me part of that puzzle, that’s where I got my confidence. My coach having confidence in me, putting me out there week in and week out, that’s where I got my confidence.”
On the Sounders’ performance Wednesday
“I thought they conducted themselves very well today. Consider the way the game went, the red card, it’s part of soccer, and good teams adjust. We know the importance of this game and trying to get something out of this game. We have goals as a team. We want to finish in a certain position come the end of the season and I thought the guys were tremendous. Couldn’t ask for a better effort.”
Do you think you did enough to earn a call back for the next round of World Cup qualifiers?
“Like I said before I got called into the camp, (I’m) working hard here and scoring goals here and our team is winning everything, else is a bonus. I’m not even looking too far ahead, it’s all about right now We’ve got a game on Sunday and I’m looking forward to it.”
On his relationship with Clint Dempsey
“Clint and I came on the national team about the same time. We were roommates from Day 1, and when I was at Fulham we became even closer. His family and my family, we used to do family gatherings that three and a half years I was over there we got to know a lot about each other. And if you ask me who is my best friend in soccer, I’d say that’s Clint.”
On the assist that set up Dempsey’s goal Tuesday
“I told him I was going to find him. We were roommates, we’re always roommates whenever I’m in camp, I said ‘Next game, I know the pitch was crap in Antigua but next game if I get around my outside fullback just make that run inside the six-yard box.’ And I’m a forward. I know where a forward wants the ball at when they make runs in the box. That’s where I would want the ball, that’s the run I would make. I said ‘You get there, I’ll put the ball there’ and that’s why we did our handshake when he scored. I told him, ‘I got you.’”
On playing as a winger instead of up top
“I played it at Preston North End when I was on loan at Preston at right midfield. I was pretty familiar with it, but again as a player you’re confident in yourself, but when you’re coach gives you confidence, like I said, the meaning for that game to put me out there, I couldn’t help but be confident in myself with Jurgen Klinsmann, who was top player in his time, put me out wide. I had to be confident.”
You’d play goalie if they asked, right?
“I’d do it all, man. I’m athletic. You’d be surprised.”