Eddie Johnson to D.C. is happening: What this means for Seattle, United

7 Comments

If you’ve been following the Washington Post’s reporting on the deal (probably through Steven Goff’s Twitter feed), you know a Eddie Johnson-to-D.C. United deal has been done since last night. Throughout the day, approval from Major League Soccer headquarters was all that sustained Johnson’s tenuous links to Seattle, but by mid-afternoon New York time, the deal was done. The 29-year-old U.S. international was swapping rave green for red and black, with a yacht-load of allocation money set to arrive on Puget Sound.

How much allocation exactly? Who knows. As Goff perfectly puts it, “given MLS’s secrecy on such matters, (the amount) will probably never be revealed publicly.” If speculation about maximum allocation scenarios is true, the Sounders could get well north of half-a-million in funny money.

For a Seattle team revamping a roster after their 2013 collapse, that amount would be huge. Well, it’d be huge for any club, but for a team in the Sounders’ position, it would be especially useful. With Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins, and Osvaldo Alonso, Seattle has no more Designated Player (DP) spots, a mild inconvenience for a team that can go out and get Dempsey and Martins-level players. If they receive a big chunk of MLS’s play money, the Sounders can buy that last railroad, put hotels on those neglected green properties, and potentially pay down Alonso’s salary cap hit, freeing up a DP spot.

The Sounders have already added Stefan Frei in goal. Not a bad replacement for Michael Gspurning. They’ve taken on Chad Marshall in the middle of defense, and Kenny Cooper’s been tacked on up top. Very good and perhaps very good. They still have (a seemingly major) hole at left midfield, and Clint Dempsey still needs to show he can be the type of creative presence that Seattle’s counting on, but Adrian Hanauer’s putting in the time on Seattle’s phone lines. He’s already addressed two of his team’s problem areas.

Whether trading Johnson creates a third is open to debate. The U.S. international was the team’s best attacker last year, but in the wake of Seattle’s conference semifinal elimination at the boots of rival Portland, Johnson’s been thrown to the curb, awaiting a bus that will either take him out of town or try to run him over (depending on how you want to extend the metaphor). Regardless, the relationship between the Sounders and one of their best players was beyond repair, with Johnson becoming a convenient target for people searching for explanations.

The Sounders have admitted the locker room was bad at the end of last season, and Johnson was publicly campaigning for a new deal. (Remember the “pay me” goal celebration?) Owner Joe Roth cited players’ attitudes and lack of effort at the club’s annual business meeting, remarks that were seen as another instance of calling out Johnson (among others). After it became clear Johnson would not return, the magic Seattle conjured in 2012 with “E.J.” dwindled into a form of scapegoating.

Johnson is not an innocent party here. He played into it all, but as he appears set to move across the country, the question is whether Ben Olsen and United can avoid some of the pitfalls that befell Sigi Schmid and Seattle. Making him a Designated Player, as The Post’s reporting suggests they will, is a great start, as it gives Johnson the appreciation he feels he deserves. Given the state of United’s squad, D.C. are also likely to play directly to its new forward’s strengths, something that became an issue between Schmid and Johnson by season’s end. Averaging a goal every 167 minutes since returning to Major League Soccer, a committed Johnson is somebody D.C. can build around.

source: AP
With three wins in 2013, D.C. United set a Major League Soccer mark for futility despite winning the U.S. Open Cup. Now, they’re ready to make Eddie Johnson a Designated Player with the hope their attacking problems will be solved. (Photo: AP)

Of course, everybody will be wondering about personalities. Rightly or wrongly, Johnson’s acquired a certain reputation throughout his Major League Soccer career, flames of which will only be fanned by how he’s leaving Seattle. Olsen, a former U.S. international himself, is not known as somebody with a high tolerance for player entitlement. On the surface, this seems like a potentially combustable relationship.

While that’s certainly the case, implying Olsen can’t handle egos seems to short-change him as a coach. Perhaps, at 36 years old, Olsen still lacks the type of man management experience Schmid brought to bear on Johnson, but he won’t be completely ignorant of the need to employ different approaches with different players. That doesn’t mean one set of rules for E.J., another for the rest of the team (something Olden would probably frown on), but if it means having to go the extra mile to make sure you’re always on the same page as a key player, Olsen’s certainly capable of doing it.

At the end of Johnson’s time in Seattle, the Sounders were no longer willing to do that. They wanted to move on and are getting a huge chunk of allocation to do so. But that doesn’t mean Johnson can’t be productive for another team. The set of challenges you inherit with him are unique, but as the Sounders showed just 12 months ago, those challenges can be overcome.

“This game belongs to the players” Wenger downplays Guardiola success

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Arsene Wenger has stressed that Pep Guardiola has not changed the game of soccer over the last decade or so, maintaining that the players are the ones who make a team truly great.

Asked if Guardiola has “raised the bar” of managing in his time at the top, Wenger said, “No, because you look at Barcelona and they are still the best team in Europe. You have to accept that the modern game has changed with the recruitment of the best players in a short number of clubs.”

[ MORE: EFL Cup final preview ]

“We, as managers, can maybe impart our philosophy but this game belongs to the players because the importance of the players has become bigger than ever before.”

In fact, Wenger showed a twinge of jealousy at all the attention Guardiola is getting with the team blowing out the rest of the Premier League this season, referencing trophies in the recent past Arsenal has hoisted. “We are maybe underdogs but we have to believe in our quality. The history, the fact we have done it before, shows why not do it again?”

“At the end of the day, you have to be cool,” Wenger said, “because Manchester City is dominating the league in the head of everybody and so maybe we are more underdogs than in the FA Cup semi-final [last season when Arsenal beat Man City].”

Deportivo wastes penalty kick, remains winless under Seedorf

Getty Images
Leave a comment

MADRID (AP) — Clarence Seedorf remained winless as Deportivo La Coruna coach after a 0-0 draw with Espanyol in the Spanish league on Friday.

Deportivo squandered chances including a second-half penalty kick taken by Lucas Perez. Its winless streak reached 10 games in all competitions.

It was the third game in a row without a victory since Seedorf took over to try to avoid relegation. Deportivo was 18th in the 20-team standings, in the relegation zone.

In addition to the missed penalty, Deportivo twice hit the posts in front of a supportive crowd at Riazor Stadium. The players left the field applauded by the local fans despite the setback.

Perez’s penalty attempt was saved by Espanyol goalkeeper Diego Lopez in the 65th minute. Lopez, who earlier this season stopped a penalty taken by Lionel Messi, dived to his right to stop Perez’s low shot.

The match marked the Deportivo debut of veteran Ghanaian midfielder Sulley Muntari. He played alongside Seedorf at AC Milan, and was signed this week after a trial period.

Espanyol, 15th in the standings, hasn’t won in seven matches, since it ended Barcelona’s 29-match unbeaten streak in the first leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals. Espanyol’s last league win was in January, seven rounds ago.

Barcelona defends its seven-point lead in the standings when it hosts Girona on Saturday. Second-place Atletico Madrid visits Sevilla on Sunday.

Conte says he believes in his selection regarding Willian

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Antonio Conte has lashed out at anyone questioning why Brazilian winger Willian hasn’t played regularly until recently, saying

“Do you think that I am stupid when I put Willy on the bench?” Conte fired back at reporters when he was asked about Willian’s earlier lack of playing time at his pre-match press conference ahead of Chelsea’s match on Sunday against Manchester United.

[ MORE: Heynckes squashes Lewandowski to Premier League rumors ]

“I have to try and make the best decision for the team, no? Maybe last season we won the title, or did I forget something?”

The 29-year-old has made 29 Premier League appearances, but only 13 starts. He started in the midweek Champions League match against Barcelona and not only scored Chelsea’s only goal but also proved their most incisive player, prompting questions about his selection.

“Now he is playing because he deserves to play, not because there is some regret from the past,” Conte said. “For what? If a player deserves to play, and shows me during the training session that he is on top of his form, and wants to work defensively, he plays. If not, [he will] stay on the bench, stay in the stands.”

Instead of saying he wishes Willian had played more earlier in the season, he praised himself for giving the Brazilian the start at the appropriate time.

“He is playing now and I am very happy with my choice. Willian deserved to start in the previous game, and played well. I did a fantastic choice, and I want to take credit for that.”

EFL Cup Final preview: Arsenal, Manchester City fight for different types of glory

Getty Images
Leave a comment
  • These two clubs have never met in a major Cup final
  • With a win, Arsene Wenger would become the 8th PL manager to win all 3 major English trophies
  • Sergio Agüero has scored in all of his last 4 appearances against Arsenal

For Manchester City, it’s the first step of a potentially record-setting season. For Arsenal, it’s the Gunners’ best chance at securing a trophy.

The two teams are fighting for very different levels of glory as the two meet at Wembley Stadium on Sunday at 11:30 a.m. ET. Manchester City, despite losing to Wigan in the FA Cup just a week ago, would still be on track for a Double this season with a win against the Gunners. Meanwhile, Arsenal is outside the Premier League top four, and – as they have done each of the past two seasons in the FA Cup – could salvage an otherwise disappointing league season with a major Cup trophy.

Both teams will be struggling with selection in certain areas. Manchester City is likely missing Raheem Sterling, who could sit out due to an unspecified muscle injury according to Pep Guardiola in his pre-match press conference, while Fabian Delph is suspended after his sending off against Wigan in the FA Cup. That means either Danilo or 21-year-old Oleksandr Zinchencko would start at wing-back. Zinchenko is the likely candidate there, having appeared in four of City’s five EFL Cup games this season so far and playing almost every minute of those four matches. Gabriel Jesus, who missed more than two months with a knee injury, could be ready to make his early return. Claudio Bravo will continue to play in goal for the domestic Cup competitions.

Arsenal, meanwhile, is without new signing Henrikh Mkhitaryan who is cup-tied to his previous club Manchester United, while Alexandre Lacazette is not yet recovered from his knee injury suffered in the North London derby, and Mesut Ozil could miss out with an illness. The Gunners are likely, however, to get Aaron Ramsey back in midfield after recovering from a groin injury, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can return to the lineup after his own cup tied absence in the Europa League midweek.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola on playing Arsenal twice in a week: “We will be happy if we win, sad if we don’t but after the game we have another match against Arsenal. We are going to try and maintain our level, but finals are different, it is not what you have done in the past.”

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger on playing Manchester City: “Manchester City have so many players that you think you have to stop that it is better to focus on the team plan than rather than on any individual. It’s true that I always used to use this competition with a youth team. For us it’s an opportunity. We’ll play with all the regular players.” 

Prediction

Arsenal has often come up big in hotly contested Cup matches, despite poor form in the surrounding competitions, so it would not be surprising to once again see Arsene Wenger hoist a trophy on Sunday to temporarily distract the fanbase and media from larger struggles. However, picking against this Manchester City team would be selection suicide, even after their disappointment against Wigan and considering the absence of under the radar star Raheem Sterling. Manchester City wins 3-1 with a pair of late goals to sink the Gunners, with a newly healthy Gabriel Jesus providing an influential injection off the bench in the final 20 minutes. Pep Guardiola raises another trophy at the site where he won the 2011 Champions League.