A mature, focused Eddie Johnson set for USMNT return

EddieJohnsonBrace (Getty)

BY DAVE MARTINEZ

It has been a long and winding road back to the National team for Eddie Johnson.

Once considered the next great American forward, the 28-year-old striker has since seen his career come to a near halt as four nomadic years in Europe and an unsuccessful jaunt with Puebla FC of Liga MX derailed his progress.  Confidence became a clear issue, and the lack of playing time only compounded his woes.

Nearly a year since his confounding stay South of the Border, Johnson finds himself amongst Major League Soccer’s top goal scorers with 14 tallies over 26 games. A change of scenery, a return home, some self improvement and a supportive Sounders staff have brought him back to the place where his career took off – the U.S. National Team.

“I’m 28 years old now,” Johnson said.  “I’m a lot more mature. I’m a student of the game and you can never stop learning the game. My biggest thing, and a sports psychologist told me, ‘Eddie, you’re your own enemy.’ Sometimes I think I put too much pressure on myself and it shows in my game. (But) I learned how to relax more and control what I can control and not let others emotions affect or dictate my play in the game.”

“I think as you get older you get smarter as a player,” he said.  “You are always learning as a soccer player.  I think my time in Europe, I always told myself ‘man, the game is simple at the end of the day but sometimes you over think things and make the game harder than it really is.’”

Johnson’s road to rebuilding began after his failed attempt to sign with Puebla FC.  Looking to get back to his roots, he sought the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida to physically – and mentally – prepare for his next big move; another run at MLS.

“When you are not having confidence, you don’t believe in yourself, playing at this level, it has a lot to do with self confidence, belief in your own ability, and trusting in what got you to where you are,” he said.  “I lacked a lot of confidence when I went over to Europe.  That’s why I was on loan spells, in and out of teams.”

The added focus has helped him get noticed at a critical time.  Jurgen Klinsmann made headlines this week by not selecting red-hot AZ striker Jozy Altidore to join the team for their critical World Cup qualifying matches.  With Landon Donovan and Brek Shea unavailable due to injury, Johnson suddenly becomes a focal figure for the U.S. just as he was so many years ago.

“I’ve always talked about setting goals for yourself and writing your goals down and looking over them and visualizing them and I said I just want to put myself in positions to put in goals, work hard and be hard to play against,” Johnson explained.  “I talked about being consistent this year.  I want to be as consistent as I can be.  When you are consistent, you keep your starting spot, and your team does well, and when your team does well, everything else is a bonus.

“I think there’s always doubt at some time in your career when things aren’t going well. There are always perceptions of you that are out there from other people in the soccer world. I think the biggest thing going on in my corner is having a coach of German background,” he said with a laugh.  “Sigi (Schmid) told me when I first arrived in Seattle that he had a very good relationship Jurgen and if I was doing the business and I was believing in everything they were trying to accomplish in Seattle and the team was winning and I was scoring goals and my behavior was good and stuff that Jurgen would give me a chance. “

Johnson held up to his side of the bargain.  Most recently, that new found skill and confidence was center stage as the returning National team striker found the back of the net in an overall strong performance against the Portland Timbers.

“Just believe in yourself,” he said.  “The thing is that the talent doesn’t go anywhere; it’s about the desire, the willingness to get back to the top

“When the talent is there, yo get around the right people …  good things happen.”

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57 Responses to A mature, focused Eddie Johnson set for USMNT return

  1. Brad says:

    I’d rather have Jozy.

  2. Francois says:

    C’mon, Ives. You know i’m not one to be overly critical, but with everything going on with the nats, a piece on EJ is not something I cared to see today.

  3. Mike r says:

    His maturity best exemplified by his flipping off of the fans.
    Not buying it. Great MLS player, average to below average anywhere else. Might do well against Antigua but that’s about it.

  4. dcm says:

    I will give him a shot, but am almost sure it will be the same EJ of years past. And no, scoring a goal against A & B doesn’t mean he is “back.”

  5. Mike r says:

    +1
    But if the ghost of Christmas wants to show Altidore a what his future his future is if he doesnt changr his ways he need only to show him EJ’s career
    ( yes Jozys current European success kinda messes it up).

    • TomG says:

      Jozy and EJ couldn’t be more different yet people keep grouping them together because of the color of their skin.

      EJ’s big problem was, quite simply, that he never developed any new skills. He became overly reliant on his dimensional speed. He basically had and still has (as far as I can see) one move with the ball – ie push the ball ahead and run after it. In tougher competition, he falters, because he just doesn’t have any moves. He is completely reliant on service.

      Jozy, on the other hand, has done nothing BUT develop his game. He has developed a hold up game, turn moves to either side, a long range shot, a shot with his left foot, his first and second touches have improved drastically as has his combination play. Jozy also is not a pure burner like EJ, but more of a power player. They could hardly be more different.

      • divers suck says:

        TomG, I’m not sure what point you’re trying to make and obviously you haven’t seen EJ play this year. Whether it translates to the NAT team remains to be seen. At the very worst, if it lights a fire under the reas end of Jozy Altidore than mission accomplished. Altidore has looked fat, lazy and quite frankly disinterested for about a year now on the NATS. JK is making a point that his (or anyone elses) spot is not a given on the USMNT, especially if he is causing discontent in the training sessions (which has been hinted at in other reports). I hope it works out for EJ in these 2 qualifiers.

        • TomG says:

          You just gave absolutely zero details about how EJ’s game has improved and resorted to name calling with Jozy, so it’s pretty safe to disregard you as an intelligent commenter.

  6. eddieisso2005 says:

    maybe Jozy and Lichaj need to find a “german” coach on good terms with Klinsmann to get back in the squad….clearly performing in significantly better leagues is not quite cutting it

  7. Rigazzi's on the Hill says:

    Interesting he needed a sports psychologist to tell him that he’s is own worst enemy.

    Did he ever try just reading the replies on the soccer blogs?

  8. PD says:

    Why do I hear strains of “the girl from Ipanima” when I look at this photo?

  9. GJJ says:

    Unless things have changed significantly, he will score goals against minnows and exhibit the first touch of a rapist against quality opposition who pressure him. Look for the ball to bounce thirty feet off his foot every time he touches it if we put him in against a Mexico or someone of higher caliber.

  10. JT says:

    Flaaaaaavvvvvvoooorrrr Flaaaaavvvvvv!

  11. Bob Bradley says:

    Exactly. I fully expect that if he scores in one of these next two games everyone will declare him our top striker going forward.

    • OneLegged says:

      It’s a lose-lose situation for EJ with you guys.

      If he doesn’t score, he sucks because he can’t score against A&G.

      If he does score, well he should be able to score against them so no big deal.

      How about giving him a chance to make an appearance again before we pass judgement? At worst he doesn’t score a goal for us – just like Altidore lately.

  12. PD says:

    Because you can have the whole world know you’re on smack and tell you you’re on smack and do all kinds of tough love things to you cause you’re on smack, but if you don’t know, then it doesn’t mean all much. I’m glad he’s hit rock bottom in a manner of speaking, now if only he could perform a similar intervention on Feilhaber and Adu. We need those guys to play their way back into relevancy, especially since Karma is forcing us to see a post-LD world a little sinner than we expected.

  13. acj says:

    How dare this site create content that you’re not interested in. HOW DARE THEY!

  14. 2tone says:

    But wasn’t Eddie Johnson brought in for his Aerial ability?

    So now Fabian Johnson is not going to be with the squad, and it looks like Castillo will be knocked out of both games. The USMNT has two crossers of the ball in Zusi and Dolo. Thats it. Klinsmann’s tactic of bringing in both Johsnon and Gordon are dramatically flawed now. Not to mention Klinsman only really needed to bring in one of Gordon or EJ to begin with.

    So now what. WHo is Klinsmann going to bring in? Ro replace Castillo and Johnson.

    lets imagune for a minute that Boca assumes the LB duties. Wel that takes care of the defensive side of the ball, btu Boca isn’t going to bomb up and down the left wing. WHo could Klinsmann call in to put in some crosses from the left. Here are three potential names:

    Chris Pontius- Surprisingly he has a pretty good left foot.
    Brad Davis- Uhm, he probably has the best delivery from wide positions with his left foot in MLS.
    Freddy Adu- Can serve in a hell of a ball, adn probably brings more creativity to the table than Pontius or Davis would.

    Will any of these three get the call-up? Probably not. So now the national team will be overloaded on the right with Zusi and Dolo. It will be a very right side skewed attack form the USMNT in these two games.

  15. JoeDub83 says:

    I’d likely do the same to San Jose fans…Oh and I’m rooting for EJ

  16. JoeDub83 says:

    Man, where’s Eddie Lewis when you need em…

  17. Dennis says:

    Good for Eddie. I always hate it when supposed fans get down on a player. There are way too many people who must prop up their own self-importance by saying ____ will never be all that good.
    EJ did very well for a young player in qualifying for 2006 WC. He was then injured off and on for over a year, and for whatever reason some of the magic that touched his early career failed him.
    FWIW, I think his early success was due in part to his athleticism, a bit of skill, some good service he received and maybe a bit of luck. I don’t think many people really expected him to score a goal a game for the USMNT forever (he did score 7 in 6 games) and scored 23 in 25 games for the U-17 team.)

  18. JRP says:

    Agreed. So mature that he Tweeted to the world he had been selected for nats camp more than two days before the coach posted the team. How mature is that? He has had a great season. I hope it translates. But to say he is grown up is stretching it.

  19. JRP says:

    I thought it was his “O” face.

  20. Hogatroge says:

    Bradley can cross, Parkhurst can cross, I’d hope Sacha can cross.

    Let’s not be overly dramatic.

  21. Hopper says:

    A lot of negativity on here from people who really don’t know what they’re talking about.

    If EJ gets an opportunity over these next two games for the nats, I believe he’ll make the most of it.

    In the end, that’s all you can really ask of him.

  22. Skeeter says:

    Klinsy will be praised soon.. watch

  23. dutchtwista says:

    that’s crazy racist.
    Kick rocks, u jerk

  24. beachbum says:

    I like the EJ callup. Way to go Coach :)

  25. Cojosurfer says:

    SEND

    From: EJ

    To: J Altidore

    Carpe Diem

  26. nate says:

    I tend to think that, like Wondo and Beckerman (and Gordon for that matter), EJ is player who looks awesome against MLS competition (and probably will against A&B) but is lacking some combination of speed/toughness/vision to compete on the USMNT against some of the better opposition. I genuinely hope he proves me wrong. We could definitely use some more striking options.

    • OneLegged says:

      EJ scored against Chelsea earlier this year.

      That’s something Barca and Bayern had problems doing, amirite?!

  27. Mike r says:

    No they need to move to the Mexican league. By calling in marginal MFL players over better European based players shows he rates the Mexican league more highly than the European league. Actions speak louder than words.

  28. mmv says:

    Haters gonna hate. People love second chance stories but for whatever reason they want to see EJ fail. They kicked him when he was down and have dismissed his success when he’s clearly rebounded for a tough couple of years. I confessive I’ve never been a huge EJ fan but I respected him and never agreed with the hate he received. I’m happy as hell for fhe guy. He’s surprised me this season and he has earned a recall despite what some think.

  29. supergrandefilms says:

    I don’t buy it. EJ is not good enough. Sorry.

  30. Charles says:

    Lacking speed ?

    Why do I get the feeling you have never seen him play, but are commenting anyway ?

  31. smokeminside says:

    He’s not the only one to have used Twitter in this way, and, at least, he didn’t bash his head coach with a tweet, a la Altidore. Unfair to single Johnson out.

  32. smokeminside says:

    Well, YOU used to think him our top striker.

  33. smokeminside says:

    Have you seen him play lately?

  34. eric says:

    Bunch of clowns posting here.

  35. Shaun says:

    The guy has hurt no one, he’s got a lot of qualities on the field, and people tend to mature when they get older. Will he do some dumb stuff again? Probably. But they are unlikely to be big deals, and the guy can score some great goals and hold up the ball. No reason why he should’t be in our top 5 strikers for this cycle. Why not root for him?

  36. Nick says:

    He deserves this. He has come a long way and I respect him for that. He has worked hard and look at what he has done. Give the MLS more credit as they are a better league then most people think. Eddie has been great this season for my Sounders. I told everyone watch this guy will come in and score goals. He has 14 goals on the season. Thats not bad. More then Montero and he is a good player as well. Eddie’s career is just getting started. Haters are gonna hate. But dont come back on here when he is doing great with the USMNT and say wow lucky. He has worked harder then you think he has. Root him on as this is your country, your national team. Support them threw thick and thin, no matter who plays. Go Eddie and go USA!

    • TomG says:

      I certainly don’t hate EJ, but I disagree with you when you say EJ’s career is just getting started. He’s 28, not very skilled, and a guy that relies on his speed to score goals. Speed-reliant guys tend to decline more quickly. I would say that EJ is probably at the very end of his prime and maybe has 2 decent years left. There aren’t many burners that remain effective into their 30’s. Giggsy is an exception, but he’s a tremendously skilled player, EJ is not. He’s pretty much all speed.

    • Marcelo says:

      I agree. When the Sounders got Eddie at the beginning of the year I had the same historical impression of him that everyone outside of Seattle still has. A young talent that never developed or grew due to both immaturity and lack of effort. However, seeing him play for the Sounders this year has been a delight. That dude does not resemble my original impression of Eddie at all. He makes great runs all the time. He is constantly busting his butt to help out on defense….and when he isn’t getting service from the midfield he’ll aggressively go and help out and try to create. He’ll still run at people because he’s got serious speed but he’s no longer a one trick pony. He’s done a great job of providing hold up play up top allowing for the development of numerous scoring opportunities throughout the year. This is something he never showed any hint of doing when he was younger. Along the way he’s also learned how to be a beast in the air and has shown increased awareness of where to position himself during the run of play to offer the greater offensive threat or support. As a Sounders fan I couldn’t be happier. Will it translate to the international stage? I don’t know. I know the effort will be there and, from his younger days, he already has had exposure to international play. Hopefully it will.

  37. Kenny says:

    Can we stop the hate on EJ, most of you have seem to forgotten the fact that EJ was our top scorer in this region before his career took a detour.

    He’s proven internationally, he just needs to find it again, that’s all. He has found it with Seattle and that’s excellent, as Donovan has shown us, you don’t need to be in a Euro team to be an important asset to your national team.

    Let’s go EJ…..I remember how you use to tear it up….but now you’re back. Tear it up baby, TEAR….IT….UP!

  38. TomG says:

    From what I’ve seen of of EJ this year, he’s still pretty much the same player. Please let me know if I’m wrongs, since I haven’t watched him closely, but most of his goals have been pretty much just products of his speed getting by defenders and firing in relatively easy finishes (albeit more with his head this year than his feet). His big problem is that he’s never developed ball skills, a first touch, hold up skills, etc. He’s pretty much just all wheels. I knew he’d be successful in his return to MLS, he’s always been a great MLS player. His problem is that, on the next level, he doesn’t have enough skill to compete.

    • TomG says:

      wrongs?? ooops.

      • OneLegged says:

        Yeah you haven’t been watching him this year. He’s improved. His goal on Sunday was an amazing left-footed finish off a volley, and it wasn’t earned due to his speed.

        • TomG says:

          Okay, thanks for the report. I’ll admit that I haven’t seen a ton of him in the last few years. Maybe he has improved. Still, volleying hasn’t really been his issue – it’s more been touch and ball skills. From what I HAVE seen, he still seems to be lacking in those areas, but let’s see and hope for the best.

  39. mike says:

    mature? i’m not seeing it. the guy who sucker punched an opponent on the sideline is mature? hardly. scoring goals doesn’t mean maturity. ask jozy.