The rise and fall of Eddie Johnson

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 Wondolowski scored 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 Beasley for 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:
Eddie Johnson
10 Brek Shea
8 Edgar Castillo
8 Stuart Holden
7 Sacha Kljestan
6 Michael Orozco
6 Jose Torres
5 Herculez Gomez
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 after Landon 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.
10 comments about "The rise and fall of Eddie Johnson".
  1. cisco martinez, May 12, 2014 at 7:42 p.m.

    Eddie Johnson should go end of story. What happens is if Altidore get hurt, are we really going to put Boyd in as the target man over EJ? His versatility on the wings and target up top is quality. He has performed for the US team when Klinsmann needed it the most and now Klinsmann has turned on a consistent forward throughout the qualifying process. I am speechless.

  2. Chris Sapien , May 12, 2014 at 9:22 p.m.

    Cisco, I could not agree more with your take! Seems, on the other hand, people are piling on EJ over comments made vs. National Team performance. Very sad and almost sick. I know you saw the other article thread so I won't mention the tone over there. Bottom line is, we have short comings up top, that EJ fills at a moments notice, like no one else currently.

  3. Kent James, May 12, 2014 at 9:29 p.m.

    The omission of Johnson raises two points (that are related). First, does a player's previous achievements matter? I would argue that a history of production on the national team (and especially his versatility, willingness to take people on, and prowess in the air) would suggest that unless he's injured or suddenly became incompetent, Johnson should go. I get that there is no room for sentimentality at the WC, but on the other hand, a record of success at the national team level should count for something. The second is how much does performance in the month or two prior to the WC matter? I understand that player's get on hot streaks, but at least in basketball, studies have documented that that impression is not accurate, given how little can separate a goal from a no-goal in soccer, I'd bet that "hot streaks" are even less relevant. My other concern is that a hot streak in a domestic league will not necessarily translate into success at the WC level with all new teammates. I'd be more comfortable with a player of known quality who's hit a slow patch (Altidore, Dempsey, earlier this season, e.g.) than taking a relative unknown who happened to get hot at the right time. Of course, I'd hope that Klinsman's final decisions will be based on how they look in training just prior to the opening games; JK has the experience at this level, so I'm hoping he knows what he's doing...

  4. Margaret Manning, May 12, 2014 at 10:55 p.m.

    I find it odd that no one mentions his personality and attitude. When he was a Sounder, he embarrassed the team as often as he scored for it. His recent comments about his teammates at D.C. were the icing on the "not going to Brazil" cake for me--not his lackluster recent performance.

  5. Ginger Peeler, May 12, 2014 at 10:55 p.m.

    Thanks, Ric, we needed that. We all like to play "armchair quarterback", but Klinsman has his own reasons for his choices. I haven't always agreed with him, but I can't argue with his results! Go USA!!!

  6. Kevin White, May 12, 2014 at 11:39 p.m.

    Have Eddie's supporters for inclusion on the national team watched him play for DC? Forget his words, he has almost completely disappeared from play. I don't think they have to wash his uniform after a game since he barely does enough to break a sweat. Klinsmann's reasons are very clear; he has watched Johnson play.

  7. R2 Dad, May 13, 2014 at 12:34 a.m.

    Still wish EJ made the 30, just so the team could see where he's at. That might have changed JKs mind or clarified why he shouldn't make the plane to Brazil.

  8. Mark Hardt, May 13, 2014 at 11:28 a.m.

    Eddie Johnson got dropped for a number of reasons. 1. Lousy start at DC. 2. Boyd and Johannsen scoring goals like crazy in league and Europa League. 3. Wondo good start to MLS. 4. Alitidore being coddled and shown preferential treatment. This Guy has been horrible at Sunderland. Why is he even here? 5. Julian green was cut a deal that if he switched to USA he goes to brazil. this is illegal immoral and dirty pools all the way around. We don't really need this kid. There are plenty of good strikers that qualify for US uniform. By making him a midfielder it makes him a lock for 23 so they have more slots. 6. Reclassifying Donovan as a forward. This makes it easier to cut Johnson and keep Green as a midfielder.

  9. ckg beautiful game, May 14, 2014 at 5:26 a.m.

    EJ scored in the last friendly against Mexico, clearly onside though not given. We have nobody upfront who can leap over people or get behind them. (Like EJ) And btw Oberfeni Martins does not play for team USA, no silver platter goals for Dempsey! These German players seem to get the edge w JK

  10. Philippe Fontanelli, May 20, 2014 at 8:48 p.m.

    Torres, Gomez and even Castillo should have made the the 30. I also think EJ will be missed he is more consistant than Altidore in the USMNT.
    Klinsman keeps on Germanizing the the Team and fogetting about the South of Border Brothers who are benefide Americans. The US players play and adapt more to the Latin style then the Nordic and German style. This WC will be the last for Klinsman with the US.
    I am deeply dissapointed in him, he is egotistical. This WC will be a fiasco for the US, thanks to Klinsman.

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