HARRISON, NJ -- Hearing the news that he was selected as a Major League Soccer All-Star, Eddie Johnson sat back in his stall in Red Bull Arena's locker room, allowing a second to reflect.
Despite a teammate congratulating him, it was clear that Johnson wanted a brief moment to process the accomplishment.
After all, the 28-year-old who was once heralded as a part of America's future in soccer has had a turbulent situation over the past four years, bouncing from club to club in Europe and culminating in a eight month period where he didn't play soccer at all. To make matters worse, Johnson revealed that during that low period of his life, a tragic moment in his personal life almost took him out of the game permanently.
"There was an unexpected death in the family, my cousin who was 21 years old passed away," Johnson revealed to Goal.com. "From a mental standpoint, I really did not want to play anymore."
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Johnson did not name the cousin who passed away but described the young man as a close friend. After that moment, the former Fulham player admitted that he just wanted to reconnect with his family. The Florida-native said after being in Europe for a lengthy spell, having a support system was important at this stage of his life.
"In my mind, I just went away from the game," Johnson said. "I just wanted to be with my family because I was in Europe for three and a half years. I wanted that chance to see them."
Still, the highs of competition are difficult for any athlete to replace and within a few months, Johnson had that itch again. After working out for a few months to regain his fitness, Johnson initially tried to re-enter MLS in the summer before rejoining the league with the Seattle Sounders FC in January. The United States international was happy that the organization gave him a chance to get back into soccer.
"It was tough in the beginning. I battled through some injuries here and there. Whenever you come to a new team, it takes time to adjust. But the coaching staff was positive and remained confident in bringing me here," Johnson said.
In return, the striker has rewarded the Sounders' confidence in him.
After opening the first two months of the season with just two goals, Johnson has been on fire lately, scoring six goals in the past six weeks. The pace that earned him a move to the Premier League looks to slowly be returning and Johnson is arguably a better finisher than he was when he left in 2008.
"I'm enjoying my football," Johnson said. "I couldn't be any happier with how I'm playing."
He added, "It wouldn't be possible without the coaching staff and the organization believing in me. "
Both Seattle's head coach Sigi Schmid and general manager Adrian Hanauer acknowledged that they expected big things from Johnson, which is why they were willing to trade young players Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle to acquire him..
"We felt that Eddie Johnson was going to be able to regain his form and be player who can play at a level to help our team," said Schmid.
Hanauer added, "We knew that it might take a while but we thought that Eddie could be a world class striker in this league. He's starting to prove that."
If Johnson continues to succeed, it could be bittersweet for the Sounders. Johnson signed with the club on a bargain basement deal, as he currently earns $100,000 annually. While there are incentives in his contract for goals scored, needless to say, he will likely want his deal restructured.
Hanauer wouldn't reveal the length of Johnson's contract but it is speculated that his current deal will end next season. The Sounders GM admits that Seattle would like to give Johnson a deal that would keep him with the club for the long term even though it could be difficult given the team's cap situation.
"I would love it if Eddie stays in Seattle for a long time," Hanauer told Goal.com. "He's a good guy and he makes us a better team. We'll take a look at everything at the end of the season. It's a league and team collaboration."
To Seattle's credit, the team has shown a willingness to reward players who have succeeded during their first years at the club. Mauro Rosales made an identical salary to Johnson last season and now earns triple that this year.
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While it's unlikely that Johnson would be given an equivalent salary, there could be a chance that he gets a raise if he decides to stay with the club. Johnson admitted that prior to returning to MLS, he was looking for opportunities in Europe before his wife convinced him to stay in the United States. One thing that Seattle can offer its in-form forward is stability, something that could be invaluable after bouncing between four clubs over the last three years.
Johnson appears to be warming up to the fact that he could play in MLS for the foreseeable future.
"I got another chance to play at a high level in a league that's proven and getting better year in and year out," he said. "When I left, there were many soccer specific stadiums and now pretty much every team in our league has one.
"That says a lot about the growth of our league. So it's a good league, good for our youth development and national team. "
The speculation over Johnson future will continue, especially if his form continues after the All-Star break. But one thing is certain: the Sounders have rekindled Johnson's love of the sport when his career appeared to be dwindling away just a few months ago. Johnson is very mindful of that fact.
"I'm honored with the [All-Star] selection and it's a credit to Sounders, we've gotten some good results. If we didn't the opportunity wouldn't have been possible," Johnson said. "It wouldn't have been possible without these guys who pushed me week in and week out."
- Eddie Johnson