Cap casualty? Eddie Johnson may have already played his last game for Seattle


That Eddie Johnson is being shopped by the Seattle Sounders shouldn’t surprise anybody, but after Sports Illustrated’s reporting this morning, we have reason to believe it’s already started. The U.S. international is looking for a big raise, one that would likely make him a Designated Player, and with Mauro Rosales’s DP slot likely to be given to Osvaldo Alonso (more rumors, but good ones), Johnson’s set to be squeezed out. The team has two other forwards signed to Designated Player deals: Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins.

Realizing the reality of the situation, Johnson’s unlikely to be surprised by the trade talk. As he positioned himself for a new deal this season (his “pay me” celebration along with his musings on Twitter), he must have known this was a possibility. And if it takes him moving to another team to get the compensation he deserves, so be it. With 24 goals over the last two years, Johnson has certainly out-performed the relatively modest deal that brought him back to Major League Soccer last year. (Johnson was paid $156,000 this season.)

Still, as Seattle left JELD-WEN Field last Thursday, eliminated from the playoffs at the boots of their archrivals, it wasn’t hard to notice a small rift — a philosophical disagreement, of sorts — between the striker an his boss.

“You’ve got to run off the ball for people,” Seattle head coach Sigi Schmid noted after the Sounders’ 3-2, second leg loss to Portland. He didn’t name names, and he was responding to a general question about the team’s problems in attack. But in a game where an emergency forward (Shalrie Joseph) started along side Eddie Johnson, the question wasn’t whether the criticism applied to Johnson; rather, if it could be reasonably be applied to anybody else.

Schmid continued, eventually praising Timber Ryan Johnson, Eddie Johnson’s equivalent with Portland:

“Sometimes running is not running for the ball yourself. It’s running to make space for your partner. We have some great individual talent, we try to get it to that. There’s sometimes where we have good sequences of knocking the ball, but at the end of the day you still have to get behind the defense.

“Portland at times their center backs will just clear the ball and it will be behind your defense, and Ryan Johnson will just hustle us there and try to put pressure on somebody … so it’s not like it’s silky play, but they get the ball behind your defense. And we need to turn the opponent’s the defense more often than we do right now.”

Johnson was asked about the issue after the match. He seemed prepared for the criticism, making an allusion to the team playing too direct, something he had also done in the wake of Seattle’s leg one loss to Portland:

We have to have guys get on the ball for our strikers to find space. If the game becomes very direct, we’re playing into [Portland’s] strengths … But if we can get … guys on the ball and play through the middle, then we can slip five or ten yard balls. Then it’s easier … to get their back four disjointed. We weren’t able to do that tonight.

Though there appears to be some disagreement, neither Schmid nor Johnson were heated about the issue. It was explanation, not confrontation. In the wake of their season-ending loss, both probably had bigger issues in mind.

source: AP
Eddie Johnson has 23 regular season goals in two years with Seattle, but with the team short on Designated Player spots, the U.S. international will likely be playing elsewhere in 2014. (Photo: AP Photo.)

It’s also important to note Johnson never expressed an unwillingness to run or even an acknowledgement that he may not have been running as much as others wanted. His explanation was more nuanced, akin to asking ‘what’s the point of running when we don’t have the ball? Or we’re not playing a style conducive to taking advantage of those types of runs?’

Even if Johnson was seeing things the same way as Schmid, he might be squeezed out of Seattle by the cap game. But these little disagreements can’t help, especially if both sides are making their case to the press. If the contract situation was different, it’d be a rift that could be overcome. This offseason, however, it will probably the last relic of Schmid’s tenure as Johnson’s coach.

The good news for Seattle: There’s no shortage of teams that could use him. He’s an all-star caliber player (made the team in 2012) and a U.S. international. There just aren’t that many better number nines in MLS. Be it at the bottom of the league (D.C. United) or top (New York), there are teams who’d be markedly improved with Eddie Johnson. This player isn’t moving because he’s bad. He’s moving because he’s outplayed his place under Seattle’s cap.

If we were a couple years in the future, where teams had bigger salary caps and potentially more Designated Player spots, Eddie Johnson probably wouldn’t be leaving Seattle. But in 2013, Johnson’s likely played his last season with the Sounders.

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

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I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.