Former Fulham, Cardiff and Preston striker Eddie Johnson has ended up back in MLS at Seattle. Kris Heneage fills in the blanks
Eddie Johnson may have returned home to MLS, but he’ll be keen to note the changes since his departure in January 2008. Former club Kansas City Wizards now go by the name of Sporting KC, and his new club the Seattle Sounders were still a year from their MLS debut when he joined Fulham as an exciting 23-year-old.
In the years that have passed the league has gone from strength to strength, but Johnson sadly hasn’t. His time at Fulham yielded few games and even fewer goals – under a dozen, in fact. Unable to hold down a first-team place, he was loaned by Cardiff and Preston to little effect (two goals in a combined 49 appearances), although a spell at Greek side Aris Thessaloniki yielded a more fruitful one-in-three goal return.
Released by Fulham last summer, he returned to his roots training at the IMG Soccer Academy. That’s when USA team-mate DaMarcus Beasley reached out to Johnson, offering him a chance with Mexican top-flight side Puebla.
Johnson trained with his new side ahead of the Mexican season, and after being given time off at New Year, prepared to fly back to Puebla from Florida. But at the airport he received a call from Beasley, claiming he’d read local reports that the deal was off.
Puebla cited a failed medical, but Johnson tells a different story. “The club said I didn’t pass my physical. I never took a physical,” he said. “Then they said that I was unfit, but I trained in every session and I did well, and the coach was happy with the way I trained. All the guys in the locker room were excited for me to join, but it was out of my control with the guys in front office.”
Instead he claims there was a difference of opinion between the club’s technical director and coach Juan Osorio, formerly of the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls. Osorio wanted Johnson, but his technical director preferred to sign a Mexican forward; with neither side willing to relent, the deal was cancelled.
With the clarity of hindsight, Johnson laments the fact that he didn’t have an agent, something he has since rectified by hiring Lyle Yorks. “I’m happy right now and it’s a better situation,” he says. “Lyle has a great reputation in Europe and he thought Europe would have been great for me, but I couldn’t keep sitting out. I know this league and I just want to come back and play. I want to let my football do the talking for me.”
Subject to the league’s allocation process, Johnson was originally signed by the Montreal Impact, the newly-admitted Canadian club. They promptly decided to trade him to Seattle in return for Lamar Neagle and Mike Fucito. Some say it’s a risky move for Seattle, but Johnson sees it as a great display of faith from the Sounders and coach Sigi Schmid.
“I couldn’t be in a better environment,” he said. “The coach believes in me and he thinks I’ll make a great fit in the team. I had the chance to train with Mike and Lamar and I think they’ll do great in Montreal.”
With Johnson knowing little of the Seattle area other than its heavy rainfall, he relied on former Aris teammate Freddy Adu to fill him in on what to expect. “Freddy and I are really good friends,” explains Johnson. “When I heard Seattle were offering a lot to get me, I was like: ‘I’ve never really been to Seattle… I heard it rains a lot up there.’
"The first thing he said was ‘Man, Seattle has the best fan support, you’re going to love it.’ I watched some highlights on MLS.com and I saw how electric the atmosphere is; he said ‘Trust me, you’re going to love it.’”
Now 27, Johnson admits that with the help of Sigi Schmid he also hopes to catch the eye of Jürgen Klinsmann and add to the 42 caps he already has for the national team. “I couldn’t be in a better environment for that. If I’m playing well enough to get into the US men’s national team, I think Sigi has a good relationship with him [Klinsmann]. I know If I’m doing it week in week out, Sigi will give him a call.”
His season with Seattle is likely to begin with a CONCACAF Champions League tie against Santos next week, and Johnson can’t wait to start making up for lost time. “The CONCACAF Champions League will be good. Right now we’re focused on our quarter-final game and I’m looking for that first goal in a Seattle Sounders jersey.”
As for his aspirations this season, Johnson is keeping those to himself, but there’s an air of determination and confidence in his voice. “As a player you always set goals. Right now I’m going to keep those goals to myself, but I’d like to go back and see what ones I did accomplish and what I didn’t accomplish.”
Earning an estimated $100,000 this season, Johnson could very easily become an astute signing for the Sounders should he recapture his early career form. As the team needs a viable partner for Fredy Montero, Johnson will seek to quickly establish an understanding with the Colombian if Seattle are to once again make the play-offs in a difficult Western Conference.
Right now though, Johnson is simply asking for a healthy season. “It’s a long season we have a lot of games with the CONCACAF Champions League, the big question is can our team stay healthy throughout the year. If we stay healthy we’ve got a strong chance.”