First Eddie Johnson returned. Then he came back.
The prodigal striker, a onetime starter for the US national team and high-priced transfer to Fulham of the English Premier League, found himself back in MLS at the start of the 2012 season after four years in the wilderness. And at the end of the journey, the Seattle Sounders hitman took home the Comeback Player of the Year award, which was announced on Tuesday.
He finished the season with 14 goals and three assists, logging 2120 minutes in 28 appearances including 24 starts for the Western Conference's second-place side.
Johnson, at age 28, returned from a largely barren stint overseas to lead the Sounders in scoring, battling through injuries and rust to become one of the league's most feared finishers. In the process, he earned his way back into the US national team picture, getting his first cap since 2010 and scoring a pair of crucial goals in World Cup qualifying to help the Yanks advance to the Hexagonal.
It's a far cry from the Johnson of 2008-11, when he often looked lost or overwhelmed regardless of the competition, with the exception being a brief spell on loan with Aris Thessaloniki of the Greek top flight.
But a winter of reflection — including a scuttled move to Liga MX side Puebla — and the faith of the Seattle organization breathed new life into the veteran, who ended up just one goal short of his previous single-season career best of 15. That was way back in 2007 with Kansas City, his last year in MLS.
“I think I got my confidence here,” Johnson told reporters of Seattle late in the season. “[Sigi Schmid] bringing me here and sitting me down, telling me his expectations and what they're trying to achieve here as a club, their goals of winning an MLS Cup. Bringing me and making me a part of that puzzle, that's where I got my confidence. My coach having the confidence in me, putting me out there week in and week out, that's where I got my confidence.”
Seattle ended up falling short of their Cup goal, but they won a playoff series for the first time in franchise history, with Johnson playing a key role in the build-up to the series-winning goal. He also ended his own playoff scoring drought, getting the opener vs. LA in the second leg of the Western Conference Championship, helped lead Seattle to a US Open Cup final, and looks set to play a key role next March as the team head into the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
Overall, the Sounders were 8-2-2 when Johnson scored in the regular season, and 2-0-1 when he recorded an assist.
Johnson beat out D.C. United's Chris Pontius and San Jose's Alan Gordon for the honor.
Voting for the award was conducted among MLS management, media and players.
|PLAYER||% Club Votes||% Media Votes||% Player Votes||WEIGHTED TOTAL|
|1. Eddie Johnson (SEA)||22.81||37.88||34.04||94.73|
|2. Chris Pontius (DC)||40.35||24.24||19.15||83.74|
|3. Alan Gordon (SJ)||10.53||13.64||9.57||33.74|
|4. David Ferreira (DAL)||5.26||9.09||6.38||20.73|
|5. Steve Zakuani (SEA)||3.51||6.06||7.45||17.02|