ST. JOHN'S, Antigua -- In the average monotony that is practice for the U.S. national team, there are two players who appear to be in a more jovial mood than usual at Sir Vivian Richards Stadium.
Clint Dempsey and Eddie Johnson are walking arm-in-arm onto the field as a local photographer takes a picture of the two men. No, they aren't celebrating a brief visit to the Caribbean. Instead, Dempsey is visibly happy that his good friend is back in the fold for the United States.
It's been a while for Johnson.
"I think it's an honor and a privilege to put the U.S. jersey back on," Johnson explained to Goal.com about his first call-up since 2010. "I know all of the hard work that I've done to make this opportunity an reality."
To put things into perspective, Johnson was completely out of soccer just a year ago. Now, the 28-year-old has revitalized his career with an impressive season for the Seattle Sounders, scoring 14 goals in 26 appearances. The striker was very mindful of that fact, praising the work of Sigi Schmid, his coach, and Adrian Hanauer, Seattle's general manager, for bringing him to the organization.
Johnson's appreciative attitude has impressed Jurgen Klinsmann. The national team coach says that Johnson has a unique personality.
"He looks good. He's totally excited to be in our group," said Klinsmann. "He's fun to watch. He's a character."
Johnson grinned when he heard Klinsmann's comments.
"How can you not be happy to be in camp? This is considered to be the best players of our country," Johnson said. "As a professional soccer player, you always want to play at the very highest level."
This is a far departure for a player who almost quit soccer several months ago. Johnson revealed in an earlier interview with Goal.com that he battled depression after his cousin Darius Giddens was killed in a shooting, and that he contemplated retirement.
One of the things that refocused Johnson was staying in touch with some of his former teammates with the national team. Even at his lowest point, Johnson said that Dempsey, Carlos Bocanegra and Steve Cherundolo, among others, kept him on track.
"They followed my career throughout [good and bad times]," Johnson explained. "Those guys, they've always believed in me. They told me to keep my head up and get into a positive environment day in and day out."
Bocanegra believes that Johnson has returned to the U.S. as a better player than he was when he last played for the team in 2010.
"He's a more well-rounded player," said Bocanegra. "When he was in Europe and a bit younger, he was an out-an-out striker type. [His mentality was,] 'I just score goals, I just score goals.'"
He continued to explain: "You want your strikers to think that way, but sometimes you want a guy that chases defenders down as attacker and gets into position defensively to be the first line of defense for the team. You can see he's maturing a bit as a player."
Bocanegra played with Johnson and Dempsey at Fulham during the 2007-08 season and stated that the striker must have been humbled by his experience of returning to MLS.
"It's hard for anyone when you play in the Premier League and now he's playing in MLS. No disrespect to MLS, but you go from the glory league to being back home," Bocanegra said. "Not saying anything against the MLS, but everything is on a [higher] level in [England]. You can see that he's said, 'I've got to get back, I've got to grind it out.'"
"He's a good guy and you can tell he's just excited to be back in the mix. He's very eager to prove himself and show that he belongs at this level."
There have been a lot of changes since the last time Johnson was in a U.S. camp. After playing for American coaches Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley, Johnson is working under a German manager in Klinsmann. Though he wouldn't compare his new head coach to his previous ones, Johnson says that Klinsmann's energy has made him feel welcome.
"I'm a newcomer under Jurgen Klinsmann. Coming into camp there's a lot of nerves and expectations, but from day one he's always been smiling. That positivity is contagious," Johnson said.
If Johnson can bring his positive form to the national side, the team's already-increasing striker competition could get interesting. Johnson has scored 12 goals in 42 appearances for the U.S. national team and has a good record in World Cup qualifying matches. Klinsmann is already intrigued by Johnson's attitude. If Johnson's performances match it, he could play an important role over the next few months.
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