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

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.”