Eddie Johnson’s football career appeared to be in terminal decline. Before signing for Seattle Sounders, he had been without a club for several months after a largely unsuccessful three-and-a-half year spell in Europe. Just 14 starts later, the 28-year-old has been selected for the MLS All-Star roster, alongside the likes of Thierry Henry, Landon Donovan and David Beckham.
Drafted by Dallas Burn in the 2001 MLS SuperDraft, Johnson was a prodigy, scoring 23 goals in 25 appearances for the US national side at Under-17 level and four goals at the Under-20 FIFA World Youth Championship in 2003, winning the Golden Shoe. Benfica offered $5m for him in January 2005, which was rejected, before he eventually joined the Kansas City Wizards in February 2006. At the start of the 2007 season, he bagged twelve goals in his first eleven games and scored back-to-back hat-tricks against New England Revolution and New York Red Bulls. This form resulted in a $6m bid from Billy Davies at Derby County, a deal that was rejected by Johnson but he agreed to join Roy Hodgson’s Fulham the following January.
Opportunities were scarce at Craven Cottage, Johnson featured only half a dozen times before dropping down a level for the 2008/09 season in the Championship with Cardiff City. A culture shock ensued as he made an inauspicious start to his loan spell, struggling with the pace and physicality of the division, while Jay Bothroyd and Ross McCormack formed a formidable partnership up front. His endeavour and a quintessentially American never say die spirit saw him become a fan favourite, despite his indifferent performances. When he eventually netted in a 3-0 win against Doncaster, it was wildly celebrated. He scored two more goals in a Cardiff shirt, one for each side in a 4-1 win against Derby, before returning to the substitutes bench in southwest London.
In January 2010, Johnson joined Greek Super League side Aris Thessalonski on loan, a prosperous spell, despite issues relating to unpaid wages, that included five goals in eight starts, including two in a play off win over Olympiakos. The pattern continued the following season with another loan spell in the second half of the campaign, shipped out to Preston who were ultimately relegated from the Championship. Johnson was subsequently released when his Fulham contract expired last summer.
After several months without a club, Johnson agreed to join international team mate DeMarcus Beasley at Mexican Primera Division outfit Puebla in December. He trained with the club for three days before returning to his native Florida for new year. At the airport for his return flight to Mexico, he was informed that local newspapers were reporting that the deal had been called off. Despite claims suggesting Johnson had failed fitness tests, it transpired that coach Juan Carlos Osorio and the club’s technical director had a difference of opinion regarding the transfer. The ensuing dispute resulted in the move falling through.
Johnson signed with the MLS in February for a relatively modest salary of around $100,000, the Seattle Sounders aggressively pursued a deal and traded Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle to Montreal in order to secure his services. “For us to have the opportunity to get him at this time and his age is huge for the club,” revealed technical director Chris Henderson, who had a significant influence in the transfer. “I couldn’t be in a better environment” Johnson added, who has since flourished as the Sounders look like strong MLS Cup contenders while holding their own in the Western Conference.
After a slow start, scoring just twice in his first two months after almost two years without a competitive goal, Johnson scored six in the subsequent six weeks. He netted in wins against Chicago, Los Angeles and Colorado, draws with Vancouver and New England, a brace against the former, plus defeats against Montreal and Portland. “I’m enjoying my football, I couldn’t be happier with how I’m playing,” Johnson claimed recently. “It wouldn’t be possible without the coaching staff and the organisation believing in me.”
Should his good form continue, Johnson will be keen to renegotiate his contract, although the wage cap the Sounders have to adhere to offers little room for manoeuvre. “I would love it if Eddie stays in Seattle for a long time,” general manager Adrian Hanauer has since revealed to Goal.com. “He’s a good guy and makes us a better team. We’ll take a look at everything at the end of the season.” His brief time at the club has not been without controversy, Johnson was fined for an obscene gesture after his first goal for the club in a 2-1 win at Chicago, he was also involved in an altercation in the aftermath of a US Open Cup win against San Jose Earthquakes.
Johnson played 65 minutes of Seattle’s recent 4-2 friendly defeat to Chelsea and will hope to have a greater impact against them while representing the MLS All-Stars on Wednesday. "I'm honored with the All-Star selection and it's a credit to Sounders, we've gotten some good results. If we didn't the opportunity wouldn't have been possible. It wouldn't have been possible without these guys who pushed me week in and week out."
Having travelled the world and struggled to establish a foothold at a number of different clubs, Eddie Johnson has managed to rehabilitate and resurrect his career back in the United States, where he first established his reputation. No longer burdened with upheaval and short-term concerns, he can focus on long-term goals and performing to a consistently high level. An improved deal and a return to the national team are within his grasp, national coach Jurgen Klinsmann will be watching on with interest.