CHESTER, Pa. – There are nine players on the 2012 MLS All-Star roster that have previously participated in the All-Star Game.
Of that group, only Eddie Johnson returns to the game in his second stint in MLS. And for the striker – who has revived his career in Seattle this year after four rocky seasons overseas – things feel a lot different this time around than when he made his last All-Star appearance, while with Kansas City in 2007.
“The last three-and-a-half years have been a roller coaster,” Johnson told MLSsoccer.com shortly after Tuesday’s training session at PPL Park. “I’ll be the first one to say: When you’re in Europe and things aren’t going well, maybe you need to come back to MLS. But I don’t buy into [the fact] that coming back to MLS makes it easier to achieve things.
"Over the last four years, since I’ve been gone, the league’s gotten a lot better," he continued. "A lot more teams are buying into soccer and taking it more seriously. There are a lot more independent ownerships building soccer-specific stadiums. And the league has really grown. I tell friends in Europe all the time – MLS has gotten a lot better.”
Because he sees how many talented players there are across the league, Johnson was thrilled to be picked for the All-Star team. Getting picked by D.C. United and MLS All-Star head coach Ben Olsen, a former teammate of Johnson’s with the US national team, made it even more gratifying.
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“I know Benny’s a winner,” Johnson said. “He’s a competitor and he’s a fighter. It means that much to me about him picking me because it says how much confidence he has in me, when many other strikers out there are having good seasons.”
To be fair, few other strikers are playing as well as Johnson, who’s among the league leaders with eight goals. The 28-year-old former US international also comes into the game scorching hot, having scored in five of his last seven contests.
Is he at all surprised he’s been able to have this much success in his first year back in MLS?
“I don’t think anything is surprising,” Johnson said. “One thing you don’t lose is talent. You can lose your desire, but I still have the desire to fight. My first year back, my goal was to work hard. Everything else is a bonus. This is a bonus and I’m grateful.”
Now, there’s one more bonus he will try to earn this week: beating Chelsea in Wednesday’s AT&T MLS All-Star Game at PPL Park (8:30 pm ET, ESPN2, TeleFutura, TSN/RDS in Canada, live chat on MLSsoccer.com). But despite knowing the English Premier League powerhouse better than most MLS players because he played in England, Johnson doesn’t have any secrets about how to accomplish that goal.
“You can’t really go in and scout those guys,” Johnson said. “We all know what they’re capable of doing as a team. They’ve proven they’re the best team in the Europe.
“But for us, we’ve got a lot of good players who have a ton of experience who’ve been lighting up this league,” he added. “Thierry Henry, he was my idol growing up as a soccer player. [Players] one through 18, we have a ton of experience. And Benny [Olsen’s] a winner and I know he’s going to go in wanting to win this game. I think we’re all pumped.”
E-mail Dave Zeitlin at email@example.com