It turns out, Eddie Johnson just wants to be loved.
Over the last four years, it has sometimes become a little too easy to forget that there was a reason Eddie Johnson was once considered to be the player that would lead United States soccer to the next level. Blessed with speed, athleticism and some impressive soccer skills, he had all the tools to succeed.
He had performed at the international level (scoring four goals in his first two appearances), he had performed at the club level (scoring 41 professional goals by the time he was 23) and there were plenty of reasons to think he would perform in the EPL when he transferred to Fulham.
That it didn't exactly work out -- to put it mildly -- should realistically be called a surprise.
That he has now turned it around should, perhaps, not be as big of one.
Johnson is still just 28, by almost any metric still in the prime of his career. He's fully healthy, surrounded by a strong support staff and playing on a team that is loaded with players who are capable of getting him the ball in dangerous positions.
A recent edition of "Opta Spotlight" over at MLSsoccer.com pointed out that Johnson has done almost all of his damage from inside the penalty area. Even if you aren't overly impressed by all the goals themselves, that's clearly the result of Johnson putting himself in dangerous positions.
It also is a major reason that prompted Dave to call this the very best version of Johnson that we've ever seen.
That's a notion that Sounders coach Sigi Schmid supported as well.
"He’s better now than he was in 2006 [when he made his USMNT debut] for a few reasons," Schmid said. "One is maturity is certainly a part of that. The second thing is just understanding when to be simple and when to try something. When you're a young player, you try to make something out of every ball sometimes. As you get older you just realize that you can go simple, simple, OK here’s my chance.
"I think he has a better recognition of when to stay simple and when to go at people. He’s still at the prime where he still has the same if not better athleticism. He’s better able to control his athleticism. He’s a better player."
I never met Johnson before he came to the Sounders, but the player I've come to know seems to be dying to please others. He seems to crave the appreciation of players, fans, coaches and even media to a certain degree. It doesn't strike me as coming from an ego-driven place, but as someone who wants you to know where he's coming from.
In Seattle, he seems to feel as if he's getting just that.
"It feels good to be wanted, to be loved, to have the fans' backing and the orgianzation's backing," he recently said. "Right now, you don't forget what got you to where you are. You just want to keep doing those things. Stay level-headed and keep working hard."
The single biggest difference seems to be that Johnson has found a home with the Sounders among a group of people that believed in him and gave him every opportunity to excel.
"It’s about getting back to the basics," Johnson said, calling this the most consistent he's ever played. "Being with familar faces, with people who believe in you. Chris Henderson, Dave Tenney, I worked with those guys in Kansas City. Sigi acquiring me and Adrian bringing me here and all of those guys having confidence in me.
"As a player, it allows you to relax when you come to a new organization and make an impression on the team. I’ve been able to relax a lot. Those guys were putting a lot of pressure on me in terms of getting fit and being sharp and training in games. They’ve always been positive with me, it’s a positive environment."
Could this all fall apart? Could an injury send him into a negative spiral? Might his emotions, which he still very much wears on his sleeve, get the best of him again? Sure, he is quite human, as he has repeatedly shown.
Do I expect this positive momentum to stop? No. Maybe the Eddie Johnson of old -- the one who got stuck with the nickname "Grown Ass Man" mainly because it seemed to be the exact opposite -- but not this guy.
This Eddie Johnson really does seem to be "All Grownsed Up."