When Eddie Johnson met with the media yesterday most of the focus was about the Cascadia Cup rivalry and his partnership with Fredy Montero. Even in those statements he talked about how he is an older, more mature player. He talked about how he's learned more about the game of soccer.
His dramatically improved heading ability he credits to former US national teammate Brian McBride. "When McBride was over in my earlier years with the National team I used to do a lot of finishing with him after training. There's a lot more to it [headers] than you think, as far as positioning, the timing of when to jump and when you're coming down you want to meet the ball. When you're coming down that's when you get more power on the ball. Also, being in Europe. A lot of people say 'he only scores with his head' where before I was streaky striker and I didn't score consistently enough.
"I just think that now, the difference that I added to my game now is that I'm older, wiser and putting myself in positions where it allows me to head the ball where early in my career I liked to drift outside of the 18 and try to take players on. I never really played in the 18 yard box. But now with my experience and trying to compare myself to the rest of the forwards in the world and I'm like 'this guy's a top forward and he plays for big team but I have more athletic ability than him, I'm faster than him. What makes him score so many goals and how is he effective?' It's just little things. Hard running in the box, finding the spaces in the box. That's what Wondolowski has been able to do over the last three years consistently. He's not going to beat someone one-on-one but when they hold the ball up he's going to bust his butt to get into that 18 yard box to get in position.
"That's where I can make my money at. It's taken me until I was 28 to figure that out. But I'm glad I'm figuring that out."
Let's give you a moment. That's a long response, but the detail he gives about his process to improvement on the pitch is extensive. It started with McBride half a decade ago, but continued through his time in Europe and maturing here with the Sounders. He also seems himself as a different player and is now looking to pass what he's learned onto a new generation.
Johnson worked late after Tuesday's practice focusing on finishing drills. Working with him was Darwin Jones. They stayed a few dozen minutes with a goal, several balls and a trainer. Generally all work was close to goal (this is something that McBride has pointed out as an important step in American soccer education) and the focus was on improving what is already a great strike rate. It was also about mentoring a young player in whom Eddie sees similarities and differences.
"It's not easy being a young player, especially when you've got a lot of expectations and hype. I know those guys [Jones, Dismuke, other Academy players] and they come out here and look up to us, to me particularly being a forward and being in their shoes when I was a young player. I just want to share my experience with them and help them better their game.
"I was talking with Jim Madrid and he had me talk to one of his idols and mentors. He said 'Eddie, define mentor. What is a mentor to you?' I said 'It's someone that looks up to you and you can give them some of your experiences and you see something in them that you didn't see in yourself.' I wasn't right word for word, but I had Darwin Jones with me that day and he said 'Darwin you're lucky because Eddie sees something in you that he didn't see in himself.'
"We all know that Darwin is a young talented guy and has a lot of ability. I kind of want to take him and Dominique under my wing because those guys being from Seattle and potentially being able to play, for what to me, is the biggest franchise, biggest soccer market in America, it's going to be a dream come true for all those guys when their family members can see them play at the CLink week in and week out. I just want to share my experience with them and really push those guys. They might not agree with everything I say, but I just want to push them as hard as I can and be as positive as I can in their lives because they have bright futures."
Johnson may have been something else in the past. His reputation around American soccer sure seems to indicate so. He's different now.