KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson go way back, and that's a big reason the United States are going forward in World Cup qualifying.
The old friends, former clubmates and 2006 World Cup teammates showed off their chemistry in Tuesday night's 3-1 victory over Guatemala, with Johnson assisting on Dempsey's game-winning goal – the first of Deuce's brace on the night – in the 18th minute.
“It was a great feeling to be back linking up with him,” Dempsey said, “and I'm proud of him that he's doing such a good job.”
The two first played together at the senior level in World Cup qualifying in 2004, in a match against Jamaica – Dempsey's first appearance with the US national team. They were also both with English side Fulham from 2008-11 – and even though Johnson spent much of that time out on loan, the two continued to hone their chemistry on the training pitch.
But until coach Jurgen Klinsmann called Johnson into camp for the United States' last two matches of the qualifying round, it appeared the two might never take the field together for the USMNT again. While Dempsey has blossomed into a star for his country, and completed a high-profile move to Tottenham Hotspur before the current Premiership season, Johnson started this year out of contract before returning to MLS in February.
Johnson has made the most of his second chance, leading the Seattle Sounders with 14 goals and getting Klinsmann's attention with his newfound consistency. He rewarded the call-up with both goals in last Friday's 2-1 qualifying win at Antigua and Barbuda.
“He's been through a lot of ups and downs in his career, but now he understands the moment," Klinsmann said in the postgame press conference. I told him when he came in, 'If you give us everything you have and adjust to what we are doing here, don't worry. You're going to be fine.' So he was comfortable and he responded with a wonderful performance already in Antigua.”
He followed that up with an energetic performance on Tuesday, making runs both on and off the ball to open space for his teammates.
“It's great to have him back,” Dempsey said, “and great for him to show the character he has to bounce back from adversity and be able to put in the performance he did in these two games.”
And when it came time for the game-winner that sent the US on to CONCACAF's final Hexagonal stage, Johnson was just as happy to provide service as to put the ball in the net.
“There are goals I write down before every game on a piece of paper,” he said. “My sports psychologist talks about writing affirmations. One of my goals is getting behind the back four and being hard to play against. It was a good weighted ball by Steve Cherundolo.
"I kind of set the guy up like I was going to come to it, and I saw the space behind. I told Clint if I ever got around the corner, I'd try to find him in that six-yard box. Those are tap-ins for him.”