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Bridges burned with Sounders, USMNT’s Eddie Johnson set for stunning D.C. move

Eddie Johnson.

Major League Soccer’s bottom team in 2013 is about to take a chance on one of the league’s most controversial personalities.

Multiple media reports have stated that D.C. United are very close to sealing a trade with the Seattle Sounders that would bring U.S. Men’s National Team striker Eddie Johnson to the capital city in exchange for allocation money and possibly other assets. The deal will provide the 2013 cellar dwellers (via a woeful record of 3-24-7) with a potent attacking weapon – but one that comes with substantial strings attached.

Multiple sources have confirmed to that Johnson, despite finding success and adulation in Seattle over the past two seasons, has deeply antagonized coaches, teammates and front-office staff at Sounders FC in recent months, leading to an imminent divorce. The final outcome of his situation is supposedly being determined at the highest levels of MLS headquarters, with commissioner Don Garber himself said to be taking a role.

[ +UPDATE: The Johnson-to-D.C. trade became official on Tuesday afternoon ]

The Florida native’s frustration at his relatively modest wages (players’ union documents list his guaranteed compensation at $106,333.33 and $156,333.33 over the past two years) relative to his 23 goals and five assists over the past two seasons appears to have boiled over. Those close to the team offer tales of late appearances and lackadaisical efforts at training sessions, bitter disputes with head coach Sigi Schmid and rocky interactions with even those close to him.

“He’s the worst,” said one source with knowledge of Johnson’s situation who spoke anonymously due to the sensitivity of the subject matter. “For a guy who was [effectively] out of soccer two years ago and now has a chance to go to another World Cup, he’s simply the worst.”

Johnson’s productivity on his second stint in MLS would appear to have justified a substantial pay raise, and he is seeking a new commitment along the lines of a Designated Player deal, which would entail annual wages of $370,000 or greater.

Under MLS’ single-entity system, all players sign contracts with the league, but Johnson’s angst appeared to be aimed primarily at the Sounders, who were handicapped by the fact that all three of their DP roster spots were occupied when the issue cropped up in earnest earlier this year.

Johnson’s representatives declined to provide comment, or make him available to comment, about his situation.

Johnson is a longtime friend of USMNT captain Clint Dempsey, who signed a landmark deal worth upwards of $5 million a year over the summer as Seattle and the league paid English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur $9 million to bring the country’s most prominent export back home.

Though the Sounders have precious little space under the league’s stringent salary cap, it was not inconceivable that additional funds could eventually be directed in Johnson’s direction. But he pressed the issue with a very public “pay me” message during his celebration of a goal against Columbus on Aug. 31 and was ordered by Schmid to stay away from the team’s training session on Oct. 23 amid the team’s stunning 0-4-3 slide to end the regular season.

“Don’t let your loyalty become slavery. If they don’t appreciate what you bring to the table…let them eat alone,” read a post on Johnson’s instagram feed that day.

Multiple sources informed that at least one lucrative offer worth seven figures annually was submitted for Johnson by a top-flight Mexican club this fall. But the player himself was hesitant to wade into a new challenge with uncertain levels of playing time just six months out from the 2014 World Cup. He was a mainstay in the USMNT’s qualifying campaign and appears to be a frontrunner for one of coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster spots in Brazil next summer.

This winter marks the latest eventful phase in a roller-coaster career for Johnson, an athletic finisher who rose rapidly from humble circumstances to become a teenage scoring prodigy in 2001.

Soccer America’s Paul Kennedy wrote this upon his stateside return in 2012: “Since leaving Fulham last summer and backing out of a deal to return to MLS, Johnson made news for all the wrong reasons. In August, his wife was accused of ramming her Jeep Cherokee into his rental car after seeing him at a Palm Coast, Fla., hotel with a woman, according to a deputy’s report. [Mexican club] Puebla brought Johnson into camp this winter but dropped him before its first game in the Torneo Clausura.”

Johnson appeared to be a changed man when he returned to the United States to resuscitate his career in February 2012.

After a rough four-year spell in Europe that saw him struggle for consistent playing time – and plunge out of the USMNT picture as a result – the powerful forward came back to MLS in search of a fresh start, and found exactly that with the Sounders. His 14 goals that season set a club record and ranked as sixth-best in the league, earning him the MLS Comeback Player of the Year award, a spot on the MLS All-Star team and a new set of opportunities with the national team.

Perhaps more importantly, it looked like the result of newfound stability and maturity. He spoke of sessions with a sports psychologist and took to social media to extol the virtues of hard work, dedication and “positive living.”

Filed under: MLS, Transactions, USMNT

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  1. Seattlemac says:

    Mark my words…..Clint Dempsey will score less than 5 goals next year for the Sounders…while the Sounders Faithful will cheer and cheer for him.
    Meanwhile, Eddie will score at least 10 for his new team….whose fans will also adore him.
    The Sounders created this clusterf*ck when they overpaid Dempsey (whose EPL team stated that he had lost a step).
    The second this deal with Dempsey went through, I stated in numerous places full of Sounders fans that we would end up hating it…that it would cause huge divisions in the team…and that we would have a terrible season…all of which has come true.
    Dempsey stinks.
    He is NOT a good passer, or a good striker (he is a poacher, at best), and is SLOW.
    The MLS is heavily influenced by Latin American players, and their style, which is fast, swarming defensive, and break-aways.
    Dempsey can’t keep up with any of it.
    No thanks, Sounders.
    You screwed the pooch on this one.

  2. Mike says:

    Sounders should have given some of that money they gave to Dempesy to Johnson. Dempesey is way overpaid and is a huge waste of money if you ask me. Eddie was a good player for the Sounders. Too bad he didn’t have a good attiude to go with it. Sounders will miss his scoring, but they won’t miss his jack a_s attiude. Another prima donna who thinks the world revolves around him. Have fun playing for the worst team in the MLS.

  3. Jeremy says:

    Seattle should have paid him and expressed a long term commitment. It would get my blood boiling too if I set a club record for goals and I was only making $150 over a 2 year span which is only $75k a year that’s a bunch if Bull polymers make more then that. Then they bring in Dempsey who hasn’t done anything and pay him $5 mil a year could have only paid him $4.5 mil a year and given Johnson some love. But in the end I’m happy with the move since I’m a timbers fan:)

    • Charles Boehm says:


      The numbers were not quite that bad for EJ — he made a bit over $100K in 2012 and about $156K in 2013. Which is a solid salary in MLS terms, but definitely low considering the number of goals he scored.

      He’s made clear he wants DP-level dough, which is several times those amounts, of course. But it’s also important to remember that he would probably already be making that level of salary if he hadn’t backed out of his original contract with MLS at the last minute in order to pursue a short-lived opportunity with Puebla in 2011-12.

    • Alex says:

      Did you not read the article? It clearly states that the Sounders could not increase his salary 2013 as they already had 3 DP’s on the team and the team cap was maxed. You need to remember here that although EJ was doing well for the team scoring goals, he did sign a “contract” with the Sounders. Now I know most people don’t care anymore about contracts but they are a real document and EJ did know at the time he signed what they were going to pay him. Kind of hard to bitch about pay when you already agreed on a price.

      Seeing it from the Sounders side, why pay more if you don’t have to. With the crappy MLS team salary cap as low as it is, there just isn’t much room to keep most players happy. At least most quality players.

      • DaveS says:

        The Sounders took a big risk on Eddie Johnson. His contract at the time was controversial, as there was no guarantee that he would produce anything approaching the value of his contract. He was due for a new contract at the end of this season, and chose to act like a fool instead of a professional as that time of reckoning drew near.

    • David says:

      Actually he was paid pretty adequately for his performance. I don’t have all the figures and players, but if you go look at the goals he scored and how much he made, then go look up other MLS players who score the same amount, he’s making just about the same as they all are. Might have been on the low end of the spectrum, but he was within a reasonable amount of other players that perform the same. Sure he’s USMT caliber, but if you fail to bring that performance back to your club, you can’t expect them to pay you more. He seems to have this mentality that he’s awesome, and if a club wants “Awesome Eddie” then they need to buy it out of him, when he should be bringing that awesome performance to show them why they should pay him more. I hope for DC’s sake that he’s better than he’s been playing, otherwise they’re gonna be overpaying him and be having some buyers remorse by the end of next season.

  4. Jonah says:

    Thug through and through from day one. What a piece.

  5. MEddie Johnson says:

    “He’s the worst.”

    That says it all.

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