By John Boyle Herald Writer
SEATTLE — When Sounders FC took on Real Salt Lake in a late-season game with big playoff implications on Wednesday, forward Eddie Johnson was reduced to a spectator role.
But if ever there was a good excuse for one of Seattle’s most valuable players to sit out such an important game, Johnson had one.
Only 24 hours earlier, Johnson had gone nearly the entire 90 minutes and provided the assist on the go-ahead goal as the U.S. National Team beat Guatemala 3-1 in an important World Cup qualifier. Four days before that, Johnson scored both goals in a U.S. win over Antigua and Barbuda. Over the course of two games, Johnson was one of the most dangerous players in a U.S. uniform.
It would have been an impressive week for any soccer player, but it was particularly rewarding for the 28-year-old Johnson, who was playing for his country for the first time since 2010. Early in his career, Johnson was a regular on the national team and a rising star in American soccer, but after his career took him to Europe, where he failed to find success, Johnson fell out of favor with the national team.
Johnson’s breakout season in Seattle in his first year back in Major League Soccer, however, caught the attention of U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann. Over the past week, Johnson made Klinsmann look like a genius for bringing Johnson back into the fold.
“It was a great experience,” Johnson said in the Sounders FC locker room following Wednesday’s game. ” … 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 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.”
Johnson, who has established a Sounders FC record with 14 goals so far this season, has repeatedly praised Sounders FC coach Sigi Schmid and the entire organization for helping him revive his career. As impressive as his week with the national team was, Johnson didn’t come back to Seattle having suddenly found confidence in his game. That already happened during an impressive 2012 season in Seattle.
“I got my confidence here,” Johnson said. “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.”
As well as Johnson played in the two qualifying games, he could have a good shot at another call-up when World Cup qualifying resumes in the spring, but for now, Johnson isn’t thinking that far ahead. For the time being, Johnson’s only goal is to help the team that helped him rejuvenate his career, starting with Sunday’s game against Dallas.
“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,” he said. “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.”
But even if Johnson isn’t looking ahead to the next round of qualifying or to the 2014 World Cup, last week was a big accomplishment for him. After learning of his call-up, Johnson admitted that he had his doubts if such a moment would ever come for him again after going two years without getting that call.
After his career stalled in Europe, a more grown-up Johnson has shown, to the benefit of Sounders FC, that he still has plenty of good soccer left in him. Even as he rediscovers the form that made him an up-and-coming star nearly a decade ago, Johnson’s success has just as much to do with how much he has changed. He now has a sports psychologist, who reminds him that he can sometimes be his worst enemy. He does yoga and visualization exercises to help him relax. And for the player, the club team, and now the national team, a grown-up Eddie Johnson is a very good thing.
“When you’re young, in my case when you’re fortunate to be earning a good living at a young age, it’s something that you’re not used to dealing with,” Johnson said prior to joining the national team two weeks ago.
“When you’re earning money like that, you start living a certain lifestyle that’s really not you and where you come from growing up. It took me a while to grow up from that standpoint. I’m 28 years old now, I’m a lot more mature, I’m a student of the game and you can never stop learning the game. … I’ve done a lot of growing, and it’s shown.”
Herald Writer John Boyle: email@example.com