Brad Evans has been getting a lot of the attention recently, but Sounders FC’s Eddie Johnson is another guy who could be starting for the U.S. men’s national team in Tuesday’s World Cup qualifier against Panama. There might be an opportunities out wide, particularly with Graham Zusi suspended.
Johnson, as you can see, above was at the Mariners game Sunday, along with U.S. teammates Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard, to throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Here is a transcript of his conversation with reporters before Sunday’s practice at CenturyLink Field.
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(What was it like throwing out the first pitch at the Mariners game?) “It was fun. A bit nerve-racking, but it was cool to go out there and get the warm welcome for myself Clint and Timmy. It just goes to show you how the fans are to the players here in this city, and how they’re so loyal and supportive. It was a great feeling.”
(How does it feel going into this game in front of your home MLS crowd?) “I think we couldn’t have scheduled a game for a better environment. We’ve talked about the sport and how it’s grown over the last decade. I never knew soccer was this big up in Seattle. To play in front of 38,000 to 40,000-plus week in and week out, and having the quote-unquote best players in our country come to town, all the young kids are looking forward to watching these players — the likes of Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Michael Bradley — and as well as myself and Brad, who play here week in and week out. It’s going to be an amazing atmosphere.”
(Did you take particular notice when this game was scheduled for Seattle?) “I put it on my to-do list. I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We’ve got a very talented squad within this national team pool, and we know it takes performing with your club. We started the year off (poorly) and we’ve started to find ourselves as a team. Brad and I started to play well. I’m very fortunate to be in camp with the national team for World Cup qualifying.”
(Panama was the team you scored the hat trick against in 2004, right? Does it feel like a long time ago?) “To you guys it might seem like a long time, but for me, I still feel young. That was an unbelievable moment and experience and something I’ll cherish for the rest of my career. Hopefully I can be out on the field helping the guys get another ‘W’ against a team I’m familiar with.”
(How did you feel to see Brad Evans score the winner Friday?) “For me, I was happy for the kid. I’ve played with him here week in and week out, and he can play a number of different positions on the field. He’s been playing mostly in the middle and out wide. I remember him playing earlier in the year with the national team against Canada and how well he played out wide. For me, I’m not a coach, but I think that’s one of his strong positions. He’s athletic. He’s smart. He’s good at playing balls into the strikers’ feet or over the top and into those spaces. … It’s his spot to be taken. I’m really happy to see a fellow teammate of mine reaping the benefits of all the hard work he’s put in.”
(How do you feel about playing on the wing?) “I’ve played there. I got two goals and an assist from playing out wide. At the end of the day, I’m not the coach, I don’t make the decisions. We’re in this camp for a reason, and if the coach is going to put me out wide, it’s for a reason. It’s because he sees something in me or that I can be more effective out there against that opponent on that given day. I’m happy just to be back in here and soak up as much as I can and keep getting better as a player.”
(And you like taking guys on 1v1 out there, right?) “Yeah, well speed is one of my strengths. I like playing with my back to the goal, but sometimes I don’t … because I feel out wide you get to see a lot more of the field. You get the ball in positions where you don’t have someone up your back and you’re able to play to your strengths. It’s something that I’ve worked hard at the last couple years. I’m just trying to be more consistent given those situations on the field.”
(What do you make of Panama?) “They’re a good team. That’s why they’re here. They’re doing really well on the table and got a good result against Mexico in Panama. They’re going to be buzzing, and they’ll feed off whatever momentum and confidence they can get. … I like our chances. I’ll go to battle with this team any day. We’ve got a great group of guys — some young guys, some veteran guys. We’re all just enjoying it right now and still trying to find our identity as a team, but it’s coming along.”