Eddie Johnson's career displays some significant red flags. He was last an effective goal scorer with his club in 2007, albeit in Kansas City. It was a dominant season. His 15 goals and 6 assists in 24 MLS matches (all starts) resulted in a 1.50 PP90. That season became his ticket to Europe. But in Europe he struggled to find a place where he fit. Fulham held his contract the whole time, but he didn't fit as a regular starter there and was loaned down to Cardiff City of the Championship (scoring twice in 30 matches) and then to Aris in Greece (5 goals in 16 appearances) and then to Preston North End on their way to being relegated out of the Championship (0 Goals in 16 matches). There was then a near signing with Major League Soccer, an exploration of a deal with Puebla which went sour through some combination of a lack of agent, front office politics and possibly fitness. His four-year-plus detour to Europe went far from well.
Yet, he stayed in the United States national team picture, but ultimately was not on the 23 man roster for South Africa 2010. Even his scoring in an American kit has an MLS flavor, with 7 of his 12 goals coming in MLS grounds and another 2 within national borders. His 2007 season, his national team experience and even his 2004 season (12 & 3) are the signs of how good EJ can be.
Sigi Schmid, in yesterday's conference call, noted that Johnson is a type of forward missing from the roster:
He’s got pace, which is something that we wanted with a forward up front who can stretch the opponent’s defense. He’s shown his ability to finish in our league, as well. He’s good in the air. He’s a guy who can get on the end of crosses. As you know, we’re a team who does well with our wide play—we get to the end line and we create opportunities in the box—and I think Eddie’s going to be able to take advantage of those opportunities and make us a more dangerous team. We’re very excited, and I’m very excited as a coach to be able to add a player of his ability to the group that we have. It’s just another step forward for us as we try and win more things.
Schmid was also hopeful that this would mean a more regular pairing with Fredy Montero at the top of the Seattle Sounders formation. Rather than rotations for tactical needs, the ideal is now a First XI pair of forwards that are different enough and good enough to become partners. It is a potentially potent offense.
When you now look in the face of Seattle and you’re thinking about—Hey, I’m going up against Eddie Johnson, I’m going up against Fredy Montero, later down the line a Steve Zakuani, a Mauro Rosales. The defense has to spread itself out a little bit.
The Seattle Sounders needed to give up depth to get to that point though. Lamar Neagle was in a battle to be the third healthy wide mid as he clearly would be backing up Alvaro Fernandez and Mauro Rosales. With Christian Sivebaek's preseason so dominant, it would be a difficult road to minutes for the Federal Way native.
At forward, the emergence of a new speed/strength option in David Estrada meant there is a bit of buffer in the loss of Mike Fucito. Still while Fucito showed flashes of scoring ability and notoriously frustrated Jamison Olave, George John and Nemanja Vidic, Estrada was still trying to get a role on the field. The UCLA player slotted in at right mid, center mid, right back (training only) and now as the high forward.
For a team with strong successes in the regular season and Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the loss of depth could be significant. It could indicate that, instead, the Sounders are now looking at an emphasis on the CONCACAF Champions League and the MLS Cup Playoffs. Those two knockout tournaments value high end talent more than the challenge of a long season or a clearly secondary national cup.
Adrian Hanauer feels that inferring a shift in focus may be jumping to conclusions and points out the other talents added, reminding all that this one deal did not happen in a vacuum.
We want to get better in multiple ways. We want to be better come big games with our starting eleven. We also, obviously, want to be a deep team, as well, for Cups and Champions league. We’ve added pieces to the puzzle pre-season—guys like Christian Sivebaek who have come in and done real well. Guys are returning—we’ve got [Steve] Zakuani on his way to getting healthy. Although, it’s always difficult to part ways with quality young players and quality young men who have been a big part of our organization. We are very excited about brining Eddie to the team…a unique skill set and a type of forward that we don’t currently have on our team. It’s not an indication that we’re going to not try and win everything like we have in the past. It’s just a different roster configuration, I suppose.
That first trophy hunt starts in just a few weeks. The Sounders staff, particularly Dave Tenney, will be pressing Eddie Johnson to prove two things -- that he maintained fitness while at the IMG Academy for the past two months and that Seattle's style is one he can learn quickly.
Johnson himself seemed ready to accept the pressure that will be on him. He was aware of his replacing fan favorites and he knows the goals in Seattle are to collect a couple or more trophies in the 2012 season. He also stated that the pressure will come as much internally as from the outside.
Hanauer and the rest of the Sounders brain trust gambled Friday evening. They took their asset of depth and hoped to get a player who at his best can match Montero's goal scoring prowess. If the brain trust is right, then this is a team that stacks up quite well against the LA Galaxy or Mexican sides. If they are wrong, then the trophy they were most likely to win may now be out of reach.