TUKWILA — When Seattle Sounders FC returns to Major League Soccer play Saturday, a former teammate will be waiting: Eddie Johnson.
After scoring 21 goals for Seattle over the previous two seasons, Johnson was traded to D.C. United over the offseason. He has provided one goal and one assist wearing the red and black. But despite those relatively low numbers, United is atop the Eastern Conference and seven points behind Seattle in the Supporters Shield race.
“They’re a team that’s played very well,” Seattle coach Sigi Schmid said. “(Forward Fabian) Espindola is out for them and Davy Arnaud is out on yellow cards, but still Eddie Johnson will be back. I’m sure he’s looking forward to the game. He’ll want to play at his best. And they’re a good team. They’ve improved themselves defensively.”
Johnson was not available for interviews in advance of this match. However, in April when United and the Sounders both played in the preseason Carolina Challenge Cup, he spoke warmly of the Sounders and their fans and said he wished this regular-season match would have been scheduled in Seattle.
“My kids are still there; they live there,” he said. “Seattle now for me is my offseason, where I spend my time right now. You know my kids are my first priority, and everything after that is second. Like I said, some amazing fans there in Seattle … so to play in front of them one more time would mean the world to me.”
Contacted this week, a D.C. United communications representative said “Eddie isn’t available for a variety of reasons.”
The Sounders once again spoke kindly of him, as they had when he was traded away and again when the teams met in South Carolina.
“Eddie’s still a friend of ours and a friend of the club’s,” Schmid said. “And we wish him nothing but the best — except against us.”
Still, the relationship between Johnson and the Sounders had its bumps. During a goal celebration last season he rubbed his fingers together and mouthed the words, “Pay me.” As the Sounders stumbled toward the end of their season, Johnson was banished from a practice as a disciplinary matter.
In the end, he was traded away for allocation money. And when the Sounders reported to training camp this year, their praise of the “improved locker room” was generally seen as reflecting Johnson’s absence.
But on the pitch Johnson has been a proven goal-scorer throughout his career in MLS and with the United States national team. And the Sounders are taking the attitude that his return to form is just a matter of time.
“You adjust to a new team,” Schmid said. “He’s got a different front-running partner in Espindola, a guy who likes to go to the flanks and find different areas. And Eddie is another guy who likes to sometimes float wide and look for space, so sometimes there’s nobody in the middle, and that’s something they probably have addressed and are looking at. Eddie’s been unlucky. … With a goal-scorer the difference between having six or seven goals and having one or two is sometimes just the rub of the green.”
During this week, the Sounders prepared under the assumption that Johnson would especially like for his goal-scoring touch to return against his former team.
“Eddie’s a quality player,” veteran defender Zach Scott said. “You add in that little motivation playing against a team that you just came from, and I think it’s a game that he’ll certainly rise to the occasion to, and one that we’ll have to be very good defensively making sure that we’ve got somebody right on him.