One of the knocks on Eddie Johnson during his first incarnation as a US national team regular was his unreliability in truly testing situations. Sure, it was murmured, he could come off the bench to notch a hat trick in 25 minutes at home against Panama, or net the final tally in an 8-0 rout of Barbados, but where was his production when the going got tough?
Well, it doesn’t get more clutch than the brace he scored to vanquish pesky Antigua & Barbuda at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium on Friday night, a storybook ending to his first US appearance in more than two years – while deployed on the left wing, of all places.
“It’s good to be back in the mix,” Johnson told beIN Sports’ Temryss Lane after the final whistle. “It’s good to be around guys I used to play with. And going into this game, the coach had a ton of confidence in me to put me out wide on the wing, and my teammates had a bunch of confidence in me.
“So it’s easy to come to these camps when everyone believes in you and coach believes in you from day one.”
In another subpar showing from coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s increasingly confounding US squad, precious few chances were created on a narrow, patchy, rain-swept field.
But Johnson made sure to capitalize on the best two that fell to him, clinically nodding downward headers past Antiguan goalkeeper Molvin James, the second coming on the stroke of injury time when a galling 1-1 draw looked the most likely result. His opener, created by a delicate cross from Graham Zusi, was dispatched with similar ruthlessness.
Afterward Johnson displayed the thoughtfulness that has characterized his unlikely return to MLS stardom, paying tribute to the Seattle brain trust who surprised many by trading away well-loved youngsters Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle to acquire him from the Montreal Impact.
“Credit goes to Sigi Schmid – first I want to thank Seattle and Adrian [Hanauer], the owner and Chris Henderson for giving me a second chance, and for really believing in me when no one else believed in me,” he said.
“In this business it’s about relationships. Fortunately my coach is of German background, and him and Klinsmann have a good relationship. He told me from day one, if I’m doing the business here [in Seattle], he has a good relationship with Klinsmann and he’ll put in a good word with me.”
And in a truly 21st-century pro sports moment, Johnson offered his gratitude to two others who helped him rediscover the form that was once so elusive despite his undoubted natural talent.
“A lot goes on behind the scenes, you know,” said the one-time teen wunderkind. “My sports psychologist, Trevor Moawad at IMG, working with a guy, Jim Madrid, in Seattle. He talked about writing goals down and one of my goals was, I have to adapt to whatever role I have to play in this game ... go out there, have a ton of confidence and believe in your own ability, and that’s what I did tonight.”