Johnson looks certain to make the jump to the English Premier League in the January transfer window and, according to sources in England, Birmingham City, Newcastle United and Reading are the most likely destinations for Johnson.
Johnson has scored 15 goals this season for the Wizards, who face the Houston Dynamo in the Western Conference final on Saturday. But it's the major improvements to his all-around game under coach Curt Onalfo that has had Premiership scouts scribbling positive observations into their notebooks.
Johnson's size, speed and strength are the attributes that appeal to English coaches. Still, there is a limited market for players who can do nothing but finish chances. The ability to hold the ball up and bring advancing midfielders into the attack is a vital skill in the action-packed Premiership.
Those who doubted Johnson's stomach for a fight were given the perfect answer in the second leg of Kansas City's conference semifinals second leg at Chivas USA. To help ease the pressure of the Wizards' under-fire defense in the second half, Johnson kept possession of the ball as a lone forward late in the game.
"That was like a Premiership game in intensity. The battling, the holding the ball, sacrificing your body – it is a good challenge," Johnson said. "You only get better going through things like that and this league has helped my game. But at some point, everyone looks to what is next and Europe is the next chapter of my career.
"This business is cutthroat. You want to strike while you are hot and if I have got an opportunity that is too good to turn down, then I have got to do what is best for my family."
Johnson had an offer from Derby County before the start of the current Premier League season that wasn't too good to turn down. Given Derby's predictable struggles – the club has managed just six points from its first 12 league games and sits at the bottom of the EPL standings – the decision is starting to look wise.
However, Johnson knows that chances of a lucrative payday in England cannot be taken for granted and that repeated snubs would lead some to question his ambition. To test his skills against some of the finest defenders on the planet, he could earn close to $2 million per season at a Premiership club.
"In the summer, I turned down a deal and I turned down something that every American soccer player dreams of – to go abroad," Johnson said. "(But) I made a commitment to myself (that) if I was going to stay I was doing it for one reason – to lift up the MLS Cup."
Those ambitions looked to be a long way from fruition late in the regular season, when the Wizards stumbled through a dismal run that put them in danger of missing the playoffs. However, a victory in Dallas on the final weekend booked their place in the postseason and two tenacious performances against Chivas set up Saturday's showdown at Robertson Stadium against the defending MLS Cup champion Dynamo.
A victory in Houston would extend Johnson's MLS career one more game – the MLS Cup final against the New England Revolution on November 18.
"I don't regret the decision not to go a year ago," Johnson said. "It feels like that was the right thing to do at the time, but it will feel even better if we take the next two and win the championship."
- English Premier League
- Houston Dynamo
- Major League Soccer