Making the leap
Major League Soccer is in danger of losing one of its top homegrown stars after Eddie Johnson admitted he is close to switching to the English Premiership.
Johnson, 23, has scored 14 times in 18 games for the Kansas City Wizards this season and his strength, pace and finishing ability has attracted some serious interest on the European soccer grapevine.
The Wizards and MLS were relieved earlier this year when the Florida native turned down a transfer to Derby County, currently at the bottom of the Premiership standings. However, it now seems as if Johnson feels his time has come and his hunger to prove himself among the best will not be held in check for much longer.
Speaking exclusively to Yahoo! Sports, he said: "The Premiership is my goal; that's my next goal. MLS is great and I am doing well. But the way I have done things in my career I am going to want a change. That is how life is, people change.
"They say in life that if you keep doing well then opportunities come, and some opportunities you can't turn down. You have got to do what's best for yourself, and I can tell you right now, that's what I will be doing from here on out – doing what's best for me and my family."
Johnson earns $750,000 a year at Kansas City but could double that salary in England and, more importantly, test himself in what is one of the top two leagues in the world.
The Premiership is a tough world, and predicting the likelihood of a player succeeding or failing can be a tricky business. The old saying that quality always rises to the top does not always hold true.
Diego Forlan was a major disappointment at Manchester United, but he flourished after moving to Spain. Thierry Henry, on the other hand, became an international superstar after joining Arsenal following an unhappy stint in Italy.
That is not because of any significant difference in the quality in the leagues, but rather situational factors based on the player, his personality and style of play and the tactical approach of the club where he ends up.
However, Johnson's size, physique, and impressive turn of speed would work in his favor. Certainly, England would be a better bet for him than a club in the more technical environment of Italy or Spain, with cultural and language barriers also weighing against those countries in his case.
Johnson has served his time in MLS, and it would be harsh for anyone to disapprove of his desire to look for bigger challenges six years after being drafted by the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas).
"I am very appreciative of the opportunity MLS has given me," he added. "I don't think any of these things would be possible if not for the success the league has had here. But people want different challenges in their life, and hopefully if I keep doing well I will be able to have a different challenge."
Barring any unforeseen obstacles, more offers from Derbys are likely to start coming in. Not from the Chelseas or Manchester Uniteds of this world, but from solid Premiership teams in search of the most valuable commodity in soccer: a proven goal scorer. Johnson spent time training with Reading last year and continues to be sporadically linked with the club.
The big move could happen as soon as January, when the European transfer window reopens. However, coming into the Premiership midway through a season is a tough proposition, and waiting until next summer may be a better bet.
At a time when MLS is hoping to build its talent pool, it would be easy to see the likely departure of Johnson as a major setback. Yet if he were to become a hit in the Premiership, it actually would be a ringing endorsement of MLS as a product and a huge plus for the game in North America.
The English game loves a character, and if Johnson can produce the goods on the pitch, he has the potential to enjoy great popularity away from it. Americans such as Brian McBride, Carlos Bocanegra and Brad Friedel who have had solid careers in the UK are respected and are positive role models, but Johnson would have a certain extra novelty value.
He is a larger than life personality, with an unmistakable sense of charisma, and, judging by the enormous watch and glittering neck chain he sports – a thing for bling. Provided he realizes that it will be hard work and humility, not diamond-encrusted jewelry, that will earn him the respect of his senior professionals in England, there is no reason he won't have a chance of succeeding there.