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.
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.