U.S. Soccer

Eddie Johnson gets another shot to shine for U.S. Men’s National Team

 

Scoring threats Brek Shea and Landon Donovan were lost to injuries but Eddie Johnson hopes to fill in.

mkaufman@MiamiHerald.com

Jozy Altidore’s absence was the most notable surprise when U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann revealed his roster Monday for a pair of upcoming World Cup qualifying matches. Also unexpected was the inclusion of Eddie Johnson, the Seattle Sounders forward in the midst of a career revival after sliding from next big thing to European soccer nomad to apparent has-been.

Johnson’s resurgence and his knack for scoring come at the perfect time, as the United States lost two threats Tuesday when Landon Donovan and Brek Shea were sent home from Miami training camp with injuries. Donovan injured his knee during the L.A. Galaxy game Saturday night, and Shea had been bothered by an abdominal strain.

Both players were ruled out of Friday night’s World Cup qualifier at Antigua and the Tuesday night qualifier against Guatemala at Kansas City, Kan.

“It’s unfortunate for Landon and Brek that they won’t be able to play,” Klinsmann said.

“Landon was very optimistic over the weekend when his knee was feeling much better, but now he needs time to recover. We knew Brek was a question mark coming in, and now we have a clear picture of where he stands. We feel confident that the group we have will get the job done.”

Johnson is determined to do his part, earn redemption and get back into the mix as the United States . attempts to qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Once upon a time, back in 2005, when Johnson was 20 years old, the Bunnell native caught the attention of many European scouts. He won the Golden Shoe Award as leading scorer at the 2003 Youth World Championships, and scored seven goals in his first six World Cup qualifying matches with the men’s national team — including a hat trick in 17 minutes against Panama.

Portuguese club Benfica offered a $5 million transfer fee for Johnson to leave the Dallas Burn, which would have been a Major League Soccer record at the time. He and the league rejected the offer. Johnson wound up in Europe three years later, after Fulham of the English Premier League signed him in January 2008. But things didn’t go well overseas.

Johnson spent three years bouncing among four clubs — Fulham, Cardiff City, Greek club Aris and Preston North End — and scored only seven goals during his odyssey. He then signed with Pueblo in Mexico, and that didn’t work out, either. Johnson spent eight months unemployed, struggled emotionally after the death of a 21-year-old cousin and worked out with the U.S. Under-17 team at their academy in Bradenton. This past spring, he got a call that changed everything.

Seattle coach Sigi Schmid and technical director Chris Henderson knew Johnson from his MLS days and had faith in his ability. The Sounders signed him for $100,000, which turned out to be a steal. Johnson leads the team with 14 goals, which is fifth in the league.

“I think Sigi has done a tremendous job with him,” Klinsmann said. “I think Eddie is back in that position because he worked very, very hard for it. 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. … He had difficult times. He went through that, he struggled in Europe, and Sigi found a way to get him back on track, and it’s exciting to see.”

Johnson was “overwhelmed and humbled’’ by the invitation.

“Every athlete in the world goes through slumps, even Roger Federer, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods,’’ Johnson said after Tuesday’s practice at FIU. “When you start reading things, seeing things, everywhere you go hearing this and that, it starts to play a toll on your confidence. You start second-guessing yourself.’’

He sought counseling from a sports psychologist, who urged him to watch clips of himself at his prime.

“I had a lot of early success, and people started writing me off … but I was only 23. The biggest thing was putting my head down, working hard, winning games and scoring goals in Seattle. This is a bonus. It’s an honor to come to camp and wear the badge again. I’m happy, like a kid in a candy store. It’s good to be back around the boys. I missed this. This is what I worked hard for, and this is just the beginning.’’

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