D.C. United made a major offseason move yesterday with the acquisition of mercurial striker Eddie Johnson from the Seattle Sounders in exchange for allocation money. The U.S. International, who was instrumental in helping the U.S. qualify for the World Cup in Brazil next summer, was persona non grata in Seattle after the Sounders late-season collapse. Allegations of jealousy over contract status (his “Pay Me” celebration in a league match in Columbus in September certainly didn’t help matters) and locker room unhappiness have been laid at the feet of the talented striker. When the Sounders acquired Kenny Cooper last week in a trade with FC Dallas, that was the last straw for Johnson in Seattle.
United has been in dire need of a speedy goal-scoring forward since… well, forever actually and now they have one. Whether or not the current roster can supply Johnson with the necessary service from the wings is another matter altogether. The trade for Johnson certainly didn’t come cheap but it didn’t have to involve any players or United’s #1 pick in next months MLS SuperDraft. It’s unknown at this moment how much allocation money was sent Seattle’s way, but with an estimated $1.5 million dollars of allocation money accrued over these past few months for various reasons (you suck allocation; CONCACAF Champions League allocation; previous trades, etc..), the trade was a no-brainer in terms of bringing in the talent that Johnson possesses. United was not going to find another striker within MLS with Johnson’s talent without selling the farm. Additionally, it is being reported by the Washington Post that Johnson will play the 2014 season under his current contract cap hit of around $150,000 with the promise that a legitimate and fair negotiation with United Technical Director Dave Kasper will commence at some point during the season. What that means in a nutshell is that United most likely will re-sign Johnson to a multi-year contract that will make Johnson either a Designated Player or someone pretty close to DP money ($390,00 per season).
While Johnson will undoubtedly will help United out of their record-setting goal-scoring malaise in 2013, the also acquired a player with a built-in host of issues that could create some issues on and off the field for United. Johnson has a well decorated history of colorful behavior both on and off the field that could leave many United fans with legitimate concerns toward his ultimate effectiveness with the squad. While they desperately need a player of his ability – fast, great in the air and most important of all – a great finisher – is the juice worth the squeeze if Johnson falls back into some of his old habits that have hastened his departure from multiple clubs?
At this point, the answer to that question is a profound yes. This team was at an all-time low last season. Surely they could use some fire and passion in this team, be it from a player who has been known to rattle a few cages. Could they really do any worse than 3 wins and 22 goals scored with Johnson? I highly doubt it. Besides, Johnson at the very least does have some motivation to start scoring goals right from the start with United.
Johnson is far from a lock for the World Cup squad for the U.S in June. He’s a lot closer than players like Chris Wondolowski or Hercules Gomez for example, but he does need to keep his goal-scoring up to solidify his spot on the team and in my mind that only helps United. United will have Johnson in camp in early February after the U.S.’ match with South Korea in late January. That should give him a solid 4-5 weeks of training with his teammates to hopefully build on some cohesion heading into the MLS opener at RFK Stadium against the Columbus Crew on March 8th.
After the season begins, Johnson will have roughly 8 matches to play with United before leaving for training camp with the National Team ahead of the World Cup. What happens after his return from Brazil will be anyone’s guess at this point. Will we get the Eddie Johnson who came back to MLS in 2012 and earned his way back on the National Team or will we get the sulky Eddie Johnson who returned to MLS after the 2006 World Cup and labored with the Kansas City Wizards (in fairness to Eddie, he did bounce back in a big way in 2007 with 15 goals for the Wizards)?
Regardless, United has acquired a legitimate game-changer in terms of goal-scoring that they have not seen here in D.C. since the first incarnation of Luciano Emilio. I know Dwyane De Rosario came to town in the middle of 2011 and lit up MLS on the way to an MVP trophy, but we all knew in the back of our minds that DeRo was on his last legs and this past season certainly was proof of that.
It will be an interesting year for United that is certainly not in doubt. Will the addition of Johnson, Sean Franklin, Bobby Boswell, Fabian Espindola (rumored to be the #1 pick for United today in the Re-Entry Draft Stage 2) and the #1 overall MLS SuperDraft pick next month (Maryland’s Patrick Mullins would be nice left-footed version of Chris Pontius if you ask me) be enough to propel United back into the playoffs? I guess we’ll just have to buy a ticket for this ride and see where it goes..