Johnson and Evans enjoyed a night they won’t soon forget by helping the US men’s national team pick up three more points in their World Cup qualifying bid with a 2-0 triumph over Panama. Both players contributed in roles they do not traditionally man in MLS action, but they still managed to enjoy solid overall nights in front of many of the same fans that watch them on a weekly basis at the club level.
Of the two, Johnson had the better overall performance, and it came as a right-sided midfielder. Not only was Johnson one of the few players who beat Panamanian defenders on the dribble consistently, but he also scored the insurance goal in the second half with a clinical finish that followed a great run in behind the defense.
“I didn’t know it was a goal. I knew the ball was good and it was just about my first touch,” said Johnson. “Your first touch is everything, you’re setting yourself up for your next touch, and I had already crossed my defender and the most important thing for me was to relax and be composed in the box. My first touch was good, and I’m a winger [tonight] but I became a striker in the box and I scored the goal.”
Johnson had scored under Klinsmann previously, but the two goals he had netted came in a 2-1 road victory over Antigua & Barbuda last fall when he played at left midfielder. Still, being in new territory on Tuesday did not prevent Johnson from making an impact on both sides of the ball.
“We really tried to concentrate on playing together and really trying to lock the side down,” said Evans. “They were still looking for balls over the top and good teams and good players are going to find a way somehow to break you down, and they did a couple times tonight, but I think Eddie and myself did well.
“For him to turn it on in the second half and still have that energy, that pace and that endurance to get in behind and score that goal is something special. And to do it in front of your home crowd, he’ll remember that forever.”
Evans himself had a topsy-turvy first half at right back. He was seemingly targeted by Panama, but responded with an improved second half.
Evans’ showing, which came after he scored the winner in a 2-1 victory in Jamaica last Friday, continued to make the case that he is more than serviceable as a right back at the international level and US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann made sure to point that out during his postgame press conference.
“Brad Evans is growing into this role, is making a very strong case for himself in our group,” said Klinsmann. “He can play that role.”
Johnson and Evans may have had distinct showings in the game, but both of them will likely remember Tuesday’s match for helping the US move one step closer to the 2014 World Cup. Both players seemed to improve their standings within a team that is full of competition at all positions.
“Since we try to double our positions and we try to have always somebody behind that is almost as good as the starter,” said Klinsmann, “Eddie’s role was in case something happened to Graham Zusi – or even on the left flank, you can throw him in there, even if up top something happens – he’s done tremendously and it serves a huge compliment.
“Talking about Brad before and Eddie, I’m constantly talking to [Sounders coach] Sigi [Schmid] here [about] how they’re doing, and we’ve got the feeling that we can follow him and help him and therefore we’re very pleased to have him in such a strong shape now.”
Franco Panizo covers the New York Red Bulls for MLSsoccer.com. He can be reached by email at Franco8813@gmail.com.