MLS preseason | Former IMG player Eddie Johnson battling for respect, spot on World Cup roster

IMG's Johnson regaining status as top U.S. player

jdill@bradenton.comFebruary 9, 2014 

D.C. United's Eddie Johnson, right, maneuvers past a Chicago Fire during Saturday's preseason match at IMG Academy. TIMOTHY R. WOLFRUM/Bradenton Herald

MANATEE -- Eddie Johnson isn't your typical American soccer player.

He doesn't come from the suburbs.

He's from the inner city, bred in Bunnell, Fla., and developed on the pitch.

The upbringing gave Johnson an attitude that nothing is ever enough, even when things didn't go well during a professional stint in England.

"Part of my mentality and my passion when I am on the field is I've always had to fight for what I wanted," said Johnson, who has 23 goals during the past two Major League Soccer seasons. "I've always felt like I was the underdog, like I always have to prove myself. I've never felt like enough is enough for me. When I was over in England and having a difficult time, I never once got on the phone and told my agent, 'Hey, I want to come back to MLS. It's too hard for me.' I've always wanted to work hard, put my head down and hopefully the manager comes in and is going to like my services. ... Going to Europe wasn't a failure for me; it was an actually a lesson learned for me. I was a

sponge; I tried to soak up as much as I can."

Johnson began his career at IMG Academy as a member of the United States U-17 Men's National Team.

That led to a professional career in MLS, before suitors from various clubs abroad beckoned to Johnson for his services.

Eventually, he landed in England. And while that spell didn't go quite the way he wanted, Johnson is back to his roots in Manatee County as a member of D.C. United during the MLS preseason held at the private sports academy.

Johnson and his teammates fell 2-0 to the Chicago Fire in front of an estimated 5,000 people Saturday night.

"It's good to be back and see some familiar faces, and it's good to get some quality training at the start of the season," Johnson said.

Johnson's ball skills, pace and penchant for finding the net led him to being tabbed the next big thing in American soccer.

He tallied 12 goals in 2004 with Dallas, before getting called up to the senior team for the 2006 FIFA World Cup.

In 2007, Johnson led Kansas City to the conference finals by scoring 15 goals, and London-based Fulham, of the English Premier League, became his next destination.

Johnson never fully found the touch he had in MLS, but the learning experience of playing in one of the top leagues in the world has enabled Johnson to become a better-rounded player.

"Some of things I learned over there was work rate," said Johnson, who did not score in 19 league appearances with Fulham. "The strikers over there, they work really hard off the ball. It's running off the ball in the attacking half and defending."

A few years ago, Johnson was back at IMG training before the Seattle Sounders brought him to the Pacific Northwest.

Johnson earned MLS Comeback Player of the Year with a 14-goal season in 2012 and was with the side last year, before getting traded to D.C. United for the 2014 campaign.

After getting skipped over for the 2010 World Cup, Johnson has the chance to make the 2014 squad that will compete in Brazil this summer.

Having the ability to play strictly up front or out wide on the wing has made Johnson a versatile player recently, and those traits could be the key to his success this season and the reason U.S. Men's National Team head coach Juergen Klinsmann calls him up to the national team for the World Cup.

"I don't necessarily have him out wide, but he can hit you many different ways," D.C. United manager Ben Olsen said. "And I think that's why he's become a good forward in this league. He's added different elements, whether it's the aerial game, set pieces so he can drop in and hold balls and be a threat behind. ... He can come out wide and take players 1 v. 1, so he's very complete. And we're excited about that."

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