SEATTLE -- When Eddie Johnson left Seattle to join the U.S. national team for his first call-up in more than two years, he wasn't sure what coach Jurgen Klinsmann had in store. Johnson was simply thrilled to get an opportunity.
It didn't matter if he played or not, the recognition was affirmation that the work he put in after finding stability with the Seattle Sounders was being noticed.
"Right now, this is just a bonus," Johnson said on Oct. 8 as he left for the national team camp. "Everyone asked me if getting called back to the national team was a goal of yours, and yeah it is. Working hard and winning games in Seattle and trying to win MLS Cup, anything after that was just a bonus for me.”
When Johnson arrived back in Seattle early Wednesday following two sterling performances in World Cup qualifying, he was the buzz of American soccer. Johnson scored both U.S. goals in a win over Antigua and Barbuda then made a perfect cross to his national team roommate, Clint Dempsey, for the deciding goal in the Americans' 3-1 win over Guatemala.
Apparently, Klinsmann had plenty in mind when he decided to give Johnson his first shot at playing for the national team since May 2010, just before he was cut from the 2010 World Cup roster.
"It was a great experience," Johnson said Wednesday night after serving as a spectator at the Sounders' scoreless draw with Real Salt Lake. "Anytime you get to go represent your country in two important games in two World Cup qualifiers where we had to get results; it was good to get called into the camp (and) it shows how confident the coach was in bringing me and the other guys in to get the job done. Credit to all my teammates and everyone here in Seattle for the opportunity to put myself in position to be successful.”
The national team call-up is just another step in Johnson's rapid ascent, from a player without a club in Europe to one of Major League Soccer's top stars this season. He leads the playoff-bound Sounders with 14 goals, with nine coming via his head. Johnson's ability in the air was one of the biggest reasons Klinsmann selected him.
Johnson rewarded Klinsmann's decision with his second-half injury time goal, on a header, to pull out the victory in Antigua.
But Johnson's more impressive performance arguably came against Guatemala. Klinsmann moved Johnson wide into an attacking midfield position on the right side, a spot he does not play in Seattle. Johnson was not completely unfamiliar with the spot, having played the position when he was on loan in 2011 at English club Preston North End.
Johnson said Klinsmann's belief he could start on the wing gave him the confidence to make the position switch.
Johnson was a constant threat on the wing and displayed his speed when he made a strong run behind the defense and one-timed a pass into the box, where Dempsey guided it into the net to give the U.S. a 2-1 lead.
"I'm a forward. I know where a forward wants the ball at when they make runs in the box. That's where I would want the ball, that's the run I would make," Johnson said. "I said `You get there, I'll put the ball there' and that's why we did our handshake when he scored.”
Seattle paid a hefty price to get Johnson, trading away two young prospects, Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle, to Montreal for the right to get Johnson in the MLS allocation process. Johnson struggled early in the season to develop chemistry at the top of Seattle's attack with Colombian striker Fredy Montero, who has served as Seattle's main scoring threat since the franchise's inception in 2009.
Johnson started to click in July and Seattle began its run in the conference standings at the same time. After going nine league matches without a victory, Johnson netted what turned out to be the game-winner in a 2-1 victory over Colorado. Over the next dozen games, Johnson scored six more goals. Montero scored in three of those matches as well.
Perhaps most indicative of Johnson's impact, the Sounders are 8-2-2 this season when he scores. And despite his efforts in the last week for the national team, Johnson is refusing to look ahead to next year's final stages of qualifying for 2014.
"Like I said before I got called into the camp, working hard here and scoring goals here and our team is winning (and) everything else is a bonus," Johnson said. "I'm not even looking too far ahead. We've got a game on Sunday and I'm looking forward to it.”