SEATTLE — A pair of standout performances for the United States in their recent World Cup qualifiers has people buzzing about Eddie Johnson’s future with the national team.
While the outside perception of the 28-year-old striker may have recently shifted, Johnson insists any changes he went through happened long before he got the call from Jurgen Klinsmann.
“I think I got my confidence here,” Johnson told reporters following Seattle's tie with Real Salt Lake on Wednesday. “The coach 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.”
When Klinsmann decided to use Johnson as a wide midfielder, that provided a similar kind of boost.
“I couldn't help but be confident in myself when Jurgen Klinsmann, who was a top player in his time, put me out wide,” Johnson said. “I had to be confident."
Also helping Johnson was playing alongside his “best friend in soccer,” Clint Dempsey. The two players started their national team careers at the same time – going in admittedly different directions – and were also teammates for three-and-a-half years at Fulham. Johnson and Dempsey grew close enough during that time that they would regularly do family gatherings together.
That Johnson’s eventual game-winning assist in the United States’ 3-1 win over Guatemala that clinched their spot in the Hexagonal went to Dempsey was no coincidence.
“I told him I was going to find him,” Johnson recalled. “I'm a forward. I know where a forward wants the ball at when they make runs in the box. That's where I would want the ball. That's the run I would make. I said, ‘You get there. I'll put the ball there,’ and that's why we did our handshake when he scored. I told him, ‘I got you.’”
Whether or not Johnson has earned himself a more regular spot with the United States remains an open question. He’s well aware that competition is strong among US forwards and that some very good ones were left off this squad.
But Johnson doesn’t seem too worried.
“I'm not even looking too far ahead, it’s all about right now,” he said. “We've got a game on Sunday and I'm looking forward to it.”
Jeremiah Oshan covers the Seattle Sounders for MLSsoccer.com and SB Nation.