By Paul Kennedy
You could make a case that Eddie Johnson was the USA's most valuable player in the 12-month period from October 2012 to September 2013 when it qualified for the 2014 World Cup, yet no one is surprised Jurgen Klinsmann left him out of the USA's World Cup plans by omitting him from the 30-player squad that begins training Wednesday at Stanford University.
Johnson rescued the USA against lowly Antigua & Barbuda with the two goals that allowed it to escape with a 2-1 win in the penultimate game of the semifinal round of qualifying when advancement to the Hexagonal was no certainty. (Remember things were going so bad that Klinsmann dropped Jozy Altidore for the final matches against Antigua & Barbuda and Guatemala.)
Chris Wondolowskiscored five goals in the first two games of the Gold Cup, but even that output was no enough to keep Johnson out of the lineup when he joined the team for the knockout stage. Johnson scored seconds after entering the quarterfinal match against El Salvador and scored and set up the first two quick goals against Honduras in the semifinals.
Johnson was never a sure starter in the Hexagonal but he tied DaMarcus Beasleyfor the most U.S. appearances (17) in 2013. Time and again, he showed off his versatility, stepping in at right midfield, left midfield and striker for suspended players and helping the USA win three home games. EJ had the second goal against Panama in Seattle and first goal against Mexico in Columbus.
Missed the cut:
17 Eddie Johnson
8 Edgar Castillo
8 Stuart Holden
7 Sacha Kljestan
GP=U.S. appearances in 2013.
Yes, Johnson qualified the USA for the World Cup, but no one surprised he isn't going. The ESPN soccer staff, for one, had five writers and editors last week pick their 23 U.S. players for Brazil, and none had Johnson on his list.
On Monday, Klinsmann said Johnson's recent remarks trying to explain his scoring drought with D.C. United had nothing to do with his decision. He said the decision wasn't easy, naming Johnson's case as one of six "tough calls" he had to make.
“It is unpleasant because you give the players a message they don’t want to hear -- it hurts you because you know it hurts them,” Klinsmann said. "You are missing out on the biggest tournament in your career."
Klinsmann gave little explanation for the decision, though.
“I spoke with Eddie for quite a long time on the phone and tried to explain as well as I could," Klinsmann said. “It was a very difficult decision based on what he has done with me the whole time and not now having the chance at the last moment, it is a very tough one on him."
The fact is, the writing was on the wall for Johnson last month -- long before his MLS drought stretched to eight games without a goal for D.C. United and Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins went on a tear with the third wheel of last season's Seattle attack long since departed. The message was clear when Wondolowski started ahead of Johnson against Mexico afterLandon Donovan couldn't go.
You could make a case Klinsmann is sacrificing a spot on his 23-year World Cup team if he takes two players, Wondo and Julian Green,for that is essentially the tradeoff: two for one.
Yes, that is little solace for Johnson right now. But one day he might take some comfort that it took two players to replace him on the 2014 World Cup team.