And just like that, he's gone. After weeks of speculation and rumor, the Seattle Sounders have traded Eddie Johnson to D.C. United on Tuesday in exchange for "a large amount" of allocation money.
As part of the deal, United has reportedly agreed to sign Johnson to a new deal, presumably one that will make him a Designated Player. Exactly how much allocation changed hands and how much of that came directly from United is not entirely clear. Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer said the newfound allocation gives the team significant flexibility and makes one or two "pretty major signings" possible.
Hanauer described the transaction as a relatively straight-forward trade between two clubs, at least from his perspective. He did acknowledge some level of league involvement, but referred specific questions to them. League sources have suggested the league kicked in some amount of allocation, essentially as payment to the Sounders for not transferring Johnson to a foreign league in a World Cup year. At least one report suggested Toluca was the team ready to buy Johnson.
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Although there have been almost rampant reports that the Sounders made this deal at least in part due to locker-room issues, Hanauer insisted that this was mostly about money and the team's desire to gain salary-cap flexibility.
As for the actual on-field effect, this will surely be felt. Whatever you may have thought of Johnson's personality, he was a force to be reckoned with. He'll leave the Sounders having scored 28 goals across all competitions, second in Sounders MLS history to Fredy Montero. Three of Johnson's goals came in the playoffs, which is more than any other player in the club's MLS history. He also had a tendency to score in big games, finding the back of the net five times in seven career games against the Portland Timbers.
Regardless of the terms on which Johnson left -- and there is already at least one anonymously sourced story claiming it was about as bad as some imagined -- he clearly has done much to rehabilitate his image as a soccer player. When the Sounders traded for him before the start of the 2012 season, it seemed as though they were making a huge gamble by sending away Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle. Johnson had spent the last five seasons mostly floundering in England and Europe, bouncing around from one loan to the next and never making much of an impact.
The player once believed to be a future United States national team star wasn't even an afterthought of Jurgen Klinsmann. With his contract up at Fulham and having reportedly failed a physical with Puebla, Johnson was out of work and in desperate need of a new start.
To his credit, Johnson joined the Sounders determined to get himself back, and that's exactly what he did. After a scorching first half of the season, Johnson was named to the MLS All-Star team, scored the game-winning goal against Chelsea and got Klinsmann's attention.
Once he was back into the national team pool, Johnson made the most of it. In 20 caps since joining the Sounders, Johnson has scored seven goals, more than any other American in that time. Among his more notable tallies are his goal against Panama in World Cup qualifying at CenturyLink Field and his game-winner against Mexico that clinched the United States' spot in Brazil. He is almost guaranteed to be have a spot on Klinsmann's World Cup team this summer.
Those World Cup prospects appear to be the main driving force behind this move. The Sounders were more than happy to move Johnson outside of the league, but MLS HQ was apparently keen to keep him around at least until the summer break and helped engineer this trade.
United, which is coming off one of the worst regular seasons in MLS history, could use the help. They are busy rebuilding their roster in anticipation for the CONCACAF Champions League -- for which they qualified by winning the U.S. Open Cup -- and need a goalscorer more than anything else. There are few players in MLS more equipped to help in that area than Johnson. With the Sounders, Johnson has averaged .53 goals per 90 minutes in the regular season.
The Sounders are surely counting on the newly acquired Kenny Cooper to help fill that hole. Over the same period, he's averaged .50 goals per 90. Unfortunately, Cooper's numbers are spread across to very divergent seasons as he scored 18 in 2012 and just six in 2013. The Sounders would probably be perfectly happy to take a production level somewhere in the middle.
This allocation windfall should also give the Sounders the flexibility to sign at least one more creative player, something in short order on the current roster. The most obvious need is at left midfield where it would appear as though Lamar Neagle is the current starter. As productive as Neagle was in 2013, all eight of his goals were scored while he was playing forward.
But those are issues that will work themselves out in the coming weeks and months. For now, it's time to bid farewell to Johnson. He was a player with obvious flaws when it came to dealing with teammates, fans and the organization, but I genuinely found him fascinating to cover. I hope that whatever is said, we can at least agree that he made life interesting here and I, for one, will be rooting for him to succeed on the international scene.