TUKWILA, Wash. – One year ago, no one quite knew what to expect from Seattle Sounders forward Eddie Johnson.
After all, this was a player who had not seen a professional game since the end of the 2010-11 European season and who had not scored a goal since early 2010. He had just failed to stick at Mexican side Puebla, with rumors flying that it was because of poor fitness.
But what a year it ended up being for him. Johnson scored 17 goals across all competitions (including playoffs) for the Sounders, silencing the masses who had questioned Seattle’s decision to send two valuable rotation players to Montreal in exchange for his rights. (Incidentally, one of those players, Lamar Neagle, is now back with the Sounders, which Johnson was quick to point out.)
For the former Dallas and Kansas City man, though, the season was not so much about silencing the doubters after ill-fated four-year spell in Europe.
“I proved to myself I can still score goals when everyone else doubted me,” he told MLSsoccer.com as the Sounders finished up their preparations for Saturday’s season opener against the Impact (10:30 pm ET, watch LIVE online)
Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid shared that sentiment.
“I think Eddie came in last year he had a lot to prove. He was very motivated, he was very determined when he came into our situation,” Schmid told reporters after Friday’s training seassion. “I think he worked very hard, it was a good combination because Fredy [Montero] took some attention away, opened up some spaces for Eddie, but as Eddie had success, he opened up spaces for Fredy as well.”
Of course, there is one piece to last season’s puzzle Schmid mentioned that the Sounders will be forced to do without – Montero. So how will Johnson adapt to being the focal point of the Sounders attack, at least for the time being?
“This situation isn’t anything new to me. I’ve played on teams where I’ve been the striker and I know what the pressure’s like and I know I what expectations are playing that role and I’m up for the challenge,” he explained. “I’ll be 29 this year. I’m a lot more experienced than I was and a lot better player than I [was] and I know how to deal with pressure and adversity, so it’s a challenge, but a good challenge and I’m looking forward to it.”
As for the expectations Johnson references, those are pretty clear: He set the bar high with his goalscoring total as the Sounders made their best-ever playoff run in 2012, falling short in the Western Conference Championship. The team also lost its bid for a fourth-straight US Open Cup on penalties.
“I think every team sits down at the start of the year and says they want to push for MLS Cup, but for a realistic goal, it’s just do better than we did last year,” he added.
So while he won’t come out and say it, the implication is clear: for Johnson and the Sounders to be better this year, it’s MLS Cup or bust.