It’s been a long few years for Eddie Johnson and his family. The sometime US national team striker bounced around Europe for three seasons, mostly failing to find the net and, consequently, failing to find a home.
With the Seattle Sounders trading for him on Friday, a day after he agreed to terms with MLS, Johnson sounded sincere during a conference call with reporters when he said he was happy to be back in the league that gave him his start after nearly a year off from professional soccer.
“I guess it was just a situation where I couldn’t figure out where I wanted to be in my career,” Johnson said of his European odyssey, which began with Fulham and included loan spells to Cardiff City, Aris of the Greek Super League and Preston North End. “A part of me wanted to come back to America. I watched the highlights all the time. … I was kinda of two minds.”
The Sounders believe the 27-year-old can rediscover the form that saw him score 41 goals in 127 games for Dallas and Kansas City across seven seasons. They have had a chance to look at him up close – Johnson has been working out for the past two months at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where Seattle are currently training.
Technical director Chris Henderson, who ran point on the deal, saw enough of the player he coached with the Wizards to pull the trigger on the deal, sending fan favorites Lamar Neagle and Mike Fucito to Montreal with head coach Sigi Schmid's blessing. Sending away two players entering their prime was difficult, but the Sounders brain trust believed it was necessary to secure the elusive second forward to play alongside Fredy Montero.
“My expectation is that Johnson and Montero can become a forward pairing that we will be able to put down on a weekly basis,” Schmid said on the conference call. “It is a pairing that is going to give us a lot of joy by scoring a lot of goals.”
With the exception of Nate Jaqua’s 2009 season and Blaise Nkufo’s brief tenure, Seattle have failed to find a reliable partner to Montero atop their standard 4-4-2 formation. With Johnson, Schmid believes they’ve found their man.
Even though Johnson’s goal-scoring record wasn’t great in Europe, he did receive plaudits from pundits for his hold-up play, something the 5-foot-9 Fucito struggled to provide. Schmid lauded Johnson’s unique skill set – which still includes breakaway speed – saying it was something the Sounders didn’t currently have on their roster.
However, question marks surround Johnson. He hasn’t played a competitive match since last April with Preston North End. A potential move to Puebla of the Mexican Primera División last month didn’t work out, although the reason remains unclear. At the time, a Puebla official said Johnson had failed his physical but Johnson disputed that account, saying that he’d never even taken one and had impressed coach Juan Carlos Osorio in training.
Goal-scoring has also been at issue. Johnson was credited with only seven total goals scored in the past three years in Europe, and hasn't scored in a competitive match since 2010. Meanwhile, his once-promising US career has stalled, with his last goal in the red, white and blue coming way back in 2008.
In Seattle, Johnson figures to have plenty of chances to better that mark with Mauro Rosales & Co. feeding in crosses. While only time will tell if this move was a smart one, the Sounders believe they’ve netted a big fish.
“We're very confident this will end up being a good transaction for us," said general manager Adrian Hanauer.