The unveiling of Eddie Johnson 2.0 already received some of our love, but when one man is the difference between crisis and reprieve, he deserves some spotlight all to himself. Consider this his curtain call – for the one man on the team that deserves to take a bow.
That he earned that bow playing out of position makes Johnson’s contributions even more remarkable. When U.S. Soccer tweeted the starting lineups, it seemed unlikely Johnson would start on the left (as their formation implied). But there he was, starting the match in front of Carlos Bocanegra, with the opening moments casting Johnson in a role more suited for Sounder teammate Steve Zakuani than a center forward.
In time, it became apparent Johnson’s role was a unique one. He played high on the left, was often targeted as an outlet or on crosses. Still, asked to comeback and help in midfield (and spend some time on the right, when he switched with Graham Zusi), Johnson was playing a role few would have thought him suited to pull off.
Perhaps it’s only right that Johnson’s return to the national team would require him to reinvent himself, if only for one night. Johnson’s spent the MLS season rebuilding a career that was on the brink of ending after he failed to land a job with Puebla this offseason. The Sounders pulled him back from that brink, gave him a starting spot on one of Major League Soccer’s most talented team, and provided him with a platform to reclaim the prestige he’d lost during four years languishing at Fulham.
They also gave him a chance to ease into the player he’s become – a player that’s better than the one that left Kansas City after the 2007 season. First it was just a matter of getting him healthy, Johnson having been injured against Santos Laguna before the season even started. Then it was finding his niche in the team. After that, the goals came. That’s also when Seattle started to round out his game. The hold up play improved. So did the work rate. So did the awareness of what he needed to be within the context of the team. Now, Johnson is as good an all-around striker as you’ll find in Major League Soccer.
Tonight, in what must be the most fulfilling night of his career, Johnson regained the one thing that was missing: Prestige. He’d lost is somewhere on the bench at Craven Cottage but found it in an unlikely play: On a cricket ground in St. John’s, Antigua. He proved himself willing, adaptable, and able to provide the goals the U.S. has so desperately lacked, and for one night, all of the people who had slotted EJ in as Brain McBride’s successor were proven right. Scoring in the 20th and 91st minutes, Johnson all of a sudden looks like the best scoring option in the pool.
Is it too much to suggest that, over the course of 90 minutes, with two bullets into the lower right hand corner of Molvin James’ goal, Eddie Johnson has changed the fate of the national team? Yes, but only slightly. It’s more accurate to say he prevented the program from careening off course, veering from this winding, uncertain trail they’ve starting climbing in wake of Bob Bradley. With his double, Johnson’s kept Klinsmann’s on course, even if the path gets rockier with every step.
No other forward at Klinsmann’s disposal is as likely to score those goals. Without them, the U.S. would have been plunged off their trail straight into an identify crisis, whether they qualified for The Hex or not.
Is the U.S. the type of team that gets drawn by Antigua and Barbuda? Thanks to Eddie Johnson, the answer is still now.