There were certainly times when Eddie Johnson thought his window of opportunity had closed.
As the loans started to pile up and success was proved increasingly fleeting, memories of playing for the United States national team got more and more distant.
A slight crack in that window opened when he returned to MLS and the Seattle Sounders made a bold move in hopes of resurrecting his once-promising career. Hard work and re-dedication to his craft was what finally pushed it wide open, culminating with Monday’s announcement that Johnson was named to the USA’s roster for a pair of upcoming World Cup qualifiers. Johnson’s last call-up was two years ago, on Oct. 12, 2010, in a friendly against Colombia.
“It feels good,” Johnson said on a conference call with reporters on Monday, extending particular gratitude to Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid, technical director Chris Henderson, general manager Adrian Hanauer and head trainer Dave Tenney. “It’s been a long road, a lot of hurdles I’ve had to overcome, adversity I had to face.”
Showing a maturity that he admits he previously lacked, Johnson acknowledged that much of the adversity was of his own doing.
“I think when you’re young -- in my case you’re fortunate to earn a good living at a young age – it’s something that you’re not used to dealing with,” Johnson said. “When you’re earning money like that, you start living a certain a lifestyle that’s not really you and where you come from. It took me awhile to grow up from that standpoint.”
Since coming to Seattle, Johnson has made a point of working with a sports psychologist. Among the revelations were that Johnson was sometimes his own worst enemy and that he put too much pressure on himself.
He took up visualizing and yoga, which he says have helped him in high-pressure situations.
“I learned how to relax more and control what I can control and not let other’s emotions dictate how I play in the game,” he said.
The results are apparent. His 14 goals are one shy of his career high and he’s proven particularly lethal with his head, scoring nine of his goals that way. It’s that ability in the air that drew the attention of US manager Jurgen Klinsmann.
“If you watch his games and his drive, his hunger that he has, the way he chases defenders and the way he creates for himself and his striking partner chances, the way he also finishes things off – that speaks for him,” Klinsmann said in a separate conference call.
Also working in Johnson’s favor was the relationship between Klinsmann and Schmid, who put in some good words for his forward.
“As a player, it’s important when you’re playing for a manager to have confidence in you,” Johnson said. “Sigi showed confidence in me from Day 1 and I just told him I want to pay him back for giving me a second chance.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.