By FRANCO PANIZO
UPPER MONTCLAIR, N.J. — Eddie Johnson may seem like a confident player for the Seattle Sounders these days, but that's only because of the belief his new team has had in him.
After spending eight months without a club and rejoining MLS this past winter, Johnson has shaken off a rough start to the season by finding the scoring touch that made him one of the most lethal forwards in MLS prior to his departure for Europe four years ago.
The 28-year-old striker, who has scored five times in his last five league matches and has earned a place in the MLS All-Star Game, attributes most of his recent success to being able to settle in with the Sounders and the confidence that head coach Sigi Schmid and the rest of the club have given him.
"When you go into a new organization, it takes time," Johnson told SBI. "Some people adapt earlier than others, some people adapt later. But one thing that helps bring the confidence in your ability is the people around you.
"The coach has been positive with me, my teammates have been positive with me, I've been working hard. [Fitness coach] Dave Tenney, I worked with him in Kansas City. When you have a bit of downspell in your career, it's about getting back with the people that helped you get to the top."
Johnson's downspell was a big one. After transferring from the then-Kansas City Wizards to Fulham in January 2008, Johnson immediately struggled to consistently get playing time with the Cottagers. Some chalked it up to him needing to get accustomed to life abroad while others believed he just was not good enough.
The following years saw him bounce around different leagues and clubs while on loan from Fulham. He did enjoy some success with Greek outfit Aris Salonika in 2010, and that resulted in then-U.S. men's national team head coach Bob Bradley calling him into a 30-man preliminary roster prior to the World Cup.
Unfortunately for Johnson, he did not make that World Cup quad, nor did he ever find a stable situation in Europe. In fact, he almost called it quits altogether after his contract with Fulham expired after the 2010-2011 season because of a death to a close relative in the family.
Still, Johnson does not look back on his time in Europe negatively.
"I can't say as a player that I played much, but I did learn a lot and I got better as a soccer player," said Johnson. "I'm happy for the experience. I'm one of the few Americans that has had the opportunity to play in the Premiership and I wouldn't change anything with that whole experience.
"You live and you learn. It made me stronger as a player. I had a chance to play some of the best players in the world and learn from some of the best players in the world, and it's made me into the player I am today."
The player Johnson is showing he is today is an improved version of the one that was creating havoc for defenses around the league just over four years ago. Johnson still has that trademark blazing speed that so many know him for but he is also a more polished and well-rounded goal-scorer, with his team-high eight goals standing testament to that.
"He's certainly done what we think he could do," said Schmid. "It took him a while to get fit, get his touch and rhythm of play but I think he's gotten that behind him now, so it's good."
Johnson admits that not being with Seattle for much of the preseason left him with a lot of catching up to do, especially considering he had gone the last eight months without playing soccer at a competitive level (though he did train on his own in Florida during that time in an effort to maintiain some of his fitness).
The move to join the Sounders, however, came about after Johnson and Mexican club Puebla had a falling out. Johnson had verbally agreed to a deal to join Puebla last winter, but the club later went on to withdraw their offer.
That opened the door for the Sounders to make a deal with the Montreal Impact (who were atop the allocation order at the time) to grab Johnson, who is now solely focusing on continuing to repay the faith the club has shown in him.
"Sigi, [general manager Adrian Hanauer], [technical director] Chris Henderson, they've all had my back and I just want to pay them back for them believing in me," said Johnson. "National team call-ups, whatever other things come on the side is a bonus. I just want to be as consistent as I can as a player and when you're consistent, good things happen."