Johnson

PST Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson edges Brad Evans

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There was no shortage of standouts for Seattle tonight. Moving forward from the back: Djmii Traoré made some strong reads in central defense; DeAndre Yedlin got the best of Deshorn Brown down the right; Osvaldo Alonso gave his typically outstanding performance at the base of midfield; and Clint Dempsey had his best game as a Sounder.

But when thinking about Seattle’s Man of the Match in Wednesday’s win over Colorado, two players stand out: Brad Evans, who scored a wonderful opening goal, his right-footed blast in the 28th minute proving the game-winner; and Eddie Johnson, whose ability to go wide and open up Colorado’s defense was vital, even before he scored the game-icing goal.

A Man of the Match post can only have one winner, so Eddie Johnson is our guy, but in any other space this should be a toss up. Both U.S. internationals played integral parts in Seattle’s first round success.

source: AP
Brad Evans (left) and Eddie Johnson (middle) both gave Man of the Match caliber performances on Wednesday night. (Photo: AP Photo.)

So why EJ over B-Rad? That 93rd minute goal helps, though that score was neither as important nor as difficult as Evans’. But between that, his part in the first goal, and the crucial role he played going into  wide areas to provide the width Seattle needed to stretch the Colorado back line, he may have done enough to transcend Evans’ well-hit opener.

That’s not to say the goal was the Seattle midfielder’s only contribution. He was one of the main factors in Seattle’s early success through the middle of the park, an aspect that allowed the Sounders to control the game while cutting off the connection between the Rapids’ holders and playmaker Martín Rivero. In the 18th minute, a beautifully lofted ball over left-center back German Mera would have created a chance if Johnson didn’t lose possession while trapping the pass. Evans was so much more than the goal.

But pressed into service at right back, Evans had some trouble with Deshorn Brown, who DeAndre Yedlin neutralized (and exploited) in the first half. Evans deserves huge credit for being able to drop back into defense, but when Brown got a step on him to launch a 56th minute shot toward goal, it looked like Evans would become a liability. (He did not. Brown was eventually subbed off.)

Johnson, on the other hand, was a force all night. He played a part in the third minute chance that saw Adam Moffat test Clint Irwin early. His holdup play helped Seattle transition the few times they couldn’t work through Clint Dempsey. And perhaps most importantly, his ability to go wide and threatened helped create seems in a Colorado defense that seemed intent on staying narrow. Like Evans, Johnson’s versatility was a virtue, forcing the Rapids out of their comfort zone.

In the 28th minute, that wide play helped Seattle get on the board. It was Johnson that was toward the left edge of the area (just outside the box) when Dempsey played out of midfield at the edge of the final third. Johnson played the ball wide for Leo González before trying to contribute to the chaos in the middle that drew attention away from Evans, who converted his chance.

In stoppage time, after Seattle had gone down a man, Johnson got his name on the scoresheet, icing the game in the process. While it originally looked like ball sent behind the right of Colorado’s defense would give him a chance to waste valuable time, Johnson turned toward goal and killed the game off another way. One-on-one with Clint Irwin, Johnson finished inside the right post to make it 2-0.

Go ahead and take your pick between Evans and Johnson, but when you look at all of the Seattle striker’s contributions, there’s a case to be made that he did enough to pass Evans’ all-important opener. Whether that’s true or not, it’s still a case we’re buying …

Though as you can see, Evans is getting plenty of love elsewhere under the NBC umbrella:

[MORE: Evans blast, Johnson insurance sees Seattle past Colorado, into the Western Conference semifinals]

[MORE: How it happened: More details on Seattle’s big win over Colorado]

Correlation or causation? Will Johnson’s near a lot of recent trouble

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Fans were talking about it after Sunday’s Osvaldo Alonso incident, so it’s probably worth a few words here: Where Will Johnson goes, trouble seems to follow. The question is whether the Portland Timbers’ captain is doing anything to bring out the worst in people. And if so, what?

If we narrow the scope to the 12 months, our trio of incidents starts last November, back when the Canadian international was still playing for Real Salt Lake.  That’s when he was the target of a homophobic slur from Seattle defender Marc Burch, who was subsequently suspended by Major League Soccer.

Earlier this season at JELD-WEN, Johnson was the target of that same slur from San Jose Earthquakes’ forward Alan Gordon, in response to which Johnson held up three fingers. Having been through this before, the veteran midfielder knew how many games Gordon would get when punishment came down from the league office.

On Sunday, video shows Johnson saying something to Osvaldo Alonso before the Seattle destroyer threw the elbow that saw him dismissed, though Johnson couldn’t remember what.

“I don’t know,” Johnson said, when asked about what he said to Alonso to draw the red card-worthy elbow. “We were just going at it. Both guys just saying things. Then it happened.”

That “it” saw Alonso dismissed in the 76th minute, but only after a brief period of chaos in Portland. We’re still waiting for final word from New York, but odds are Alonso will miss more than the obligatory game.

Asked for his thoughts after the match, Sigi Schmid didn’t forgive Alonso’s lack of control. (“He’s a veteran player. He needs to do better.”) He also didn’t hesitate to point the finger.

“All I can tell you is whenever things happen, Will Johnson always seems to be at the other end of things,” Schmid told the assembled media after Sunday’s game. “I don’t know what he says, what he does to instigate things, but obviously Ossie has to control his behavior.”

Before we can undertake any discussion of Johnson, that last part needs to be reiterated. Alonso, Gordon, and Burch were all in the wrong. In all likelihood, Johnson is doing something to get under their skin, but as professional athletes, they owe it to themselves and their teams not to get baited into such things. They can’t make it so easy for an opponent to do this.

But it’s becoming less and less likely that Johnson’s just some innocent party here. If Schmid’s intimation is correct, he may actually be an accessory – a Bill Laimbeer-esque presence, willing to do what it takes to draw the worst out of his opponent.

This isn’t quite Steven Lenhart land, but there is something strange going on. But since none of Burch, Gordon, or Alonso have provided details, it’s impossible to tell. Perhaps Johnson’s provocations have been so innocent that details would make the offenders’ actions even less explicable. Or, maybe Johnson’s benefitting from a type of “what happens on the field” agreement others don’t feel like violating. Or, maybe Johnson is perfectly innocent and this is just coincidence. We should keep that option open.

Regardless, after Sunday’s incident, Johnson was given a chance to provide his view. What, I asked, does he say to people who look at the Burch, Gordon, and Alonso incidents and want to see a pattern?

“I’ve got an army behind me,” Johnson said, referring to the Timbers’ fans. “I don’t need to say anything.”

Perhaps not, but that won’t answer any questions as to what’s drawing these responses out of Johnson’s opponents.

Fabian Johnson, Danny Williams still in Bundesliga after Hoffenheim’s playoff win

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Hoffenheim cut it close in the regular season, needing an unlikely win at Borussia Dortmund and a Fortuna Dusseldorf loss at Hannover to avoid an automatic relegation to the 2. Bundesliga, but after today’s 2-1 win at Kaiserslautern, the club of U.S. internationals Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams finally secured their spot in next year’s Bundesliga. Winning their two-leg playoff by an aggregate 5-2, Hoffenheim stays up at the expense of the four-time German Champions, `Slautern seeking to bounce straight back up after last season’s relegation.

Survival means Johnson and Williams don’t have to worry about relegation’s effect on their international careers. As Carlos Bocanegra has found, life for a second division club doesn’t help hold down a place ui Jurgen Klinsmann’s set up (though Bocanegra was also having trouble earning playtime at Racing Santander). While there was a time when Benny Feilhaber could get called in after Aarhus’s relegation or Frank Simek would get a look while paying for Sheffield Wednesday, now it takes circumstances like Bocanegra’s or Stu Holden’s (at Bolton) to be considered as exceptions.

Johnson may have been alright. The U.S. is so thin at left back, it would have taken a sharp downturn in form to see him left out. By and large, Hoffenheim’s struggles have been in spite of Johnson’s contributions, not because of them. If he didn’t want to stick it out in Germany’s second division, Johnson would have found another club.

Williams, however, would have been in a more precarious position. The defensive midfielder has failed to hold down a consistent place in the team, injuries teaming with on-field struggles to limit him to 21 league appearances and 17 starts. His last game with Hoffenheim’s senior team was on March 30.

Those are the type of circumstances you see surrounding players who drift out of Klinsmann’s squad, and while Hoffenheim’s spot in the first division will help Williams maintain his, that only solves half the problem. Williams will have to show improvement in 2013-14 to regain some of the playing time he’s lost. If he doesn’t, Williams may eventually see his name descend the pecking order in a crowded U.S. central midfield.

Most of these questions, however, will remain thought experiments. Thanks to today’s result, Johnson, Williams, and Hoffenheim will stay up. That doesn’t necessarily mean the U.S. internationals be with their club when next season starts (this is soccer, after all), but if they are, they’ll be playing first division soccer.