Since Eddie Johnson's return to Major League Soccer earlier this year, I have made no secret of my interest in tracking the former U.S. national team forward's progress in Seattle.
I wrote about Johnson when I was in Seattle at the start of the season, and again when the Sounders hosted Freddy Adu and the Union in May.
On Monday night, I got an exclusive interview with Johnson at a reception welcoming the MLS All-Stars and Chelsea to Philadelphia.
I want to take you back to your first game with the Sounders, a CONCACAF Champions League contest in March. Did you think at that point that you would go on to mesh in with the team as well as you have?
To be honest, I’d be lying if I said yes. Considering my experiences being a professional soccer player, and knowing when you go from one transition to another it takes time to adjust. But saying that, I think my experience and my transition over in Europe – not making a sudden impact – it kind of motivated me and it drove me as a player to be more consistent.
That’s how you win your fans over, you win your coaching staff over and you win your players over being a new player on a team.
If I were to sit there and say I was going to make the MLS All-Star Team, it was one of my goals, but it’s something that I wrote down that I wanted to work hard for and try to accomplish. If I did, I’d know I gave my all. I’m honored to be here. I thank coach Ben Olsen for making me a part of the team, and I’m looking forward to the game on Wednesday.
You’ve played in England before. You’ve seen a lot of these guys from the other side of the field. But it’s been a little while since then, as you’ve been bouncing around other countries. What’s it going to be like facing a big English team again?
These are the games you want to learn a lot from. You want to take a lot. As much as it’s a friendly All-Star game, it’s a lesson. It’s like a class in school, when you have that hard math class or that hard subject where you really want to learn as much as you can.
That’s one of the things that we said as a team when the Sounders played them a week ago – all we can do is use this as a learning experience, and take this and try to better ourselves as professionals.
I’ve played against a lot of these players before. They’re the champions of Europe, and you really don’t need to do a scouting report on these guys. You know what they can do as individuals and as a team.
I’m looking forward to it. As a player, you want to play against the best players in the world, and through your career you want to play at the highest level. It doesn’t get any higher than this Wednesday, and all the players are looking forward to it.
We’ve got a good team, and we’re looking forward to getting out there and getting these guys sharp for the start of their season.
Does it feel familiar again being in MLS now? Or does it feel different than it did back when you were in Kansas City and Dallas?
No. If anyone said that when you leave a league and come back to it, that it’s the same and it’s familiar ...
Soccer is a growing sport and the progression that the league has made, the quality of play, the quality of each franchise as far as getting the right players here and building a team where you have your own identity as a team, not just direct and attacking soccer. They’re good offensively and they’re hard to break down defensively.
One of the things I realize from playing in the league four years ago to now is that the league is a lot harder. There are a lot more better players. The fan base is amazing. A lot more teams have their own soccer-specific stadiums. Five or 10 years from now it’s going to be even bigger.
I was going to say, what you have in Seattle and Portland and places like that is a far cry from what it used to be like at Arrowhead Stadium and the Cotton Bowl.
You mean what we have in Seattle, not Portland – no, I’m just kidding. Seattle, as well as Portland and Vancouver, to go and walk out and see that, especially in Seattle with 40,000-plus fans, you can’t ask for a better environment to play in front of. You can’t ask for a better fan base to play in front of.
I’m very happy that the staff in Seattle, Sigi Schmid and Adrian [Hanauer] and Chris Henderson – I thank them for acquiring me and believing in me, and making the Seattle Sounders a better team.
How easy or hard is it to gel together this team to play a competitive game on Wednesday?
I think there’s a lot of experience in this team, and experience is the key. If it was a bunch of MLS All-Stars for the first time, then you’d have to wonder. But you’ve got guys like Landon Donovan, Thierry Henry, [Dwayne] De Rosario, [Osvaldo] Alonso, Chris Wondolowski who’s having a fantastic year.
You look around the roster and I can name each player individually. All of the guys are having great years, all the guys are big parts of the puzzle. It’s a team where there’s a lot of experience, a lot of quality players and a lot of veteran players. I think we’ve got the right mix as far as going out there and giving these guys a good game.