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February 27, 2012 at 1:12 AM

Johnson: “When I arrived with the team, I felt like I had been here for many years.”

02262012 ej mug.JPGThe near-freezing temperatures weren’t a problem.

“Naw, I’m used to it,” Eddie Johnson said after a frigid first practice in Seattle, comparing it to his days in rainy England.

The show-stopping Rave Green gear was no bother either.

“I think green was our color (in youth soccer),” he said. “It’s good to be back in green.”

And the hamstring that he tweaked a week ago?

“It’s good — I ran around,” said Johnson. “Today I didn’t really want to push it, but it felt good.”

Indeed, things are going pretty well for Sounders FC’s newest addition. For the first time in almost a year, Johnson has some career stability. He’s also on a team that believes in him and playing for a coach he thinks might be the best in MLS.

The introduction to the club, it seems, could not have gone better.

“This being my 10th year as a professional, and (having traveled) around the world, one thing I can say about the team here in Seattle is from the first day I arrived … the team has made me feel very welcome,” Johnson said. “The fans, as well, and the whole organization. That’s a positive thing.

“When you’re new on a team, I think it’s all about adjusting. From my first day when I arrived with the team, I felt like I had been here for many years. It’s been going great. … It’s a good group. Like I’ve said, it’s fun playing with these guys. It’s good to be a part of the organization and I’m looking forward to the season this year.”

Now there’s one big goal — getting match fit.

And working with fitness coach Dave Tenney will be a plus. Johnson is familiar with Tenney from time together in Kansas City, when the forward had a breakout 2007 season. The whole Sounders fitness staff has been “really good” according to Johnson, who said Sunday was his first day back after four days off.

Time to make that final push.

“You can have all the ability in the world, but if you’re not match fit, you can’t perform,” said Johnson.

Or score goals.

Johnson has frequently noted that he knows how popular Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle were here. On Sunday, the 27-year-old suggested that he knows the pressure will be on him to produce — quickly.

“For a striker, it’s all about confidence and getting that first goal, getting the fans behind you and starting the season off on the right note,” Johnson said.

Part of that production will come from a strong partnership with fellow forward Fredy Montero. Johnson said he likes what he’s seen from his Colombian teammate in practice, particularly Montero’s skill and vision.

Coach Sigi Schmid expects that partnership will take some time to develop.

“In the one game, we didn’t play Eddie together with Fredy,” the coach said. “Then he had the slight injury, so we’re trying to bring him along carefully right now, and slowly. We really haven’t had a chance to play the two of them together in a game yet. We’ve seen them together at practice and we had them play together in practice when we did 5v5 or 6v6. They’re both good players and good players develop an understanding pretty quickly.”

Certainly, Wednesday’s preseason game against Jaguares de Chiapas would be a nice place to grow that relationship, but Johnson’s hamstring injury has his availability in doubt — even though he insisted he’d play if it was up to him.

You can’t blame Johnson for being eager to play. He hasn’t been involved in a competitive game since last April and his last competitive goal dates back further. Even while at Fulham, he’d watch MLS highlights with American teammate Clint Dempsey and marvel at the Sounders’ crowds.

“One of the things that sparked my interest in coming to Seattle was first of all the fans,” Johnson said. “They have a great fan-base and support here in the city. When I heard it was always 35-40,000 fans week in and week out, that’s the type of environment you want to be in in America.

“The league itself is improved, but these are the types of fans and atmospheres you want to play in. You feel like a professional soccer player here in America. I know we compete against all the franchises and other sports in America, but I can say this as European as it gets, here in Seattle.”


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