It’s getting easier to talk about. It’s getting better on the field.
Eddie Johnson accepted the news with dignity back in May when he found out he wouldn’t be a part of the U.S. roster for the World Cup. It still hurt, and it made the pressures of his high-profile move to D.C. United even more difficult to handle.
In the months since, Johnson has used the time to find his way with D.C. United and to allow the wounds of his disappointment to heal. Coming off his best performance of the season in United’s 3-1 win over Chivas USA, Johnson is putting the World Cup behind him and is more anxious than he has been all season to keep his team at the top of the standings.
“It was hard, not going to the World Cup,” Johnson said. “It was a huge blow to me. You work two years as hard as you can, try to do all the right things, and you felt like you were a for-sure player to go… It was devastating. Once it was over, I could put my whole focus here in D.C. and right now, in the last month, I have really been enjoying my soccer.”
Despite being without injured league MVP candidate Fabián Espíndola since mid-June, United is riding a season-best three-game win streak heading into Wednesday’s clash with Toronto FC. Johnson is a big reason why, converting penalty kicks in consecutive matches and setting up Perry Kitchen’s gamewinner against Chivas with the kind of trademark knockdown header he came to D.C. to deliver.
“I was brought here to do a certain job,” Johnson said. “I feel like all of me wasn’t here for my teammates. But right now, I am focused, and we’re starting to connect on the field and get the results and play the soccer that we all worked to accomplish since preseason.”
Johnson hasn’t been the only one to step up in the absence of Espíndola - Luis Silva has netted four goals since earning the starting spot – but his confidence has improved steadily since MLS resumed play after World Cup break.
“He’s as well-rounded a forward as you can get in this league and now it’s nice to see him touch the net a little bit,” United head coach Ben Olsen said. “He does a lot of scoring in the summer traditionally, and we hope the goals keep coming. [Against Chivas] I thought he’s worked as hard as he’s ever worked on the defensive end for us. Part of that is scoring goals. You score goals and you’re a little bit more energized as a forward.”
Johnson has also been a player opponents have had to build their game plans around from the moment he set foot in Washington.
“It’s important for the fans to get behind him,” Olsen said, “because in a lot of ways, he’s as good as it gets in this league. He has an ability to score, hold the ball up, he’s technically sound, has good pace.”
Now, it’s all starting to come together. As the Black-and-Red continue to learn about each other on the pitch, Johnson’s off-the-ball movement is being rewarded. He understands that it’s a process, and he believes whole-heartedly in that process.
“It’s like anything new in life, it takes time to build something special,” said Johnson. “At the beginning, it was difficult, but now we’re starting to see the rewards of what we have been doing here in DC, especially these last games.”