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June 21, 2013 at 2:00 PM

Eddie Johnson: ‘We’re just delighted to put ourselves in a good position to qualify for Brazil.’

Photo credit: John Lok, The Seattle Times

Photo credit: John Lok, The Seattle Times

Reporters got a chance to chat with Sounders FC’s Eddie Johnson this week after he returned for a month of duty for the U.S. men’s national team. The star forward played for the U.S. in all three World Cup qualifiers and scored, of course, in the 2-0 win in front of his home crowd in Seattle.

Here is a transcript of the interview:

*     *     *

(Have you been able to reflect on what you and the team accomplished this past month?) “Yeah. It’s been, for one, a blessing to be a part of and wear the shirt in three important World Cup qualifiers where the table is really tight. For us to go out there and get nine points in three games, we couldn’t have asked for better results, better timing to come together as a team. We’re just delighted to put ourselves in a good position to qualify for Brazil.”

(What does it say about the team’s togetherness with such success with different lineups?) “We’ve talked about depth, and from a coaching standpoint, you want to create a pool of players. In Jurgen’s case, who was a very technical player, having a lot of technical players and really trying to form a possession-type of system, where a lot of guys are confident on the ball and playing some exciting football. Playing against Costa Rica in Colorado was, I think, a defining moment for us, where we started to say we’re going to go back to the basics, we’re going to go back to working really hard and having that American never-wilt-never-die mentality. When you’re working hard, you start to create a bit of luck. And with that hard work and creating that luck, we’re starting to play some good, confident, attacking football right now.”

(Do you think a lack of cohesiveness was overblown by the media?) “I think the most important thing for us is not to worry about what’s going on outside of the team. I think in every team we have goals, and our goal was to get nine points however that was going to come. If we had to win nasty away, if we had to win nasty at home, but the most important thing right now is everyone is on the same page, and you can see that. Different lineups. Different personnel on the team. It doesn’t matter if it’s a player that plays consistently, the guys who are coming off the bench are filling in and doing the same job. It says a lot about our team with the depth and the competiveness inside the dressing room, which makes it hard for the coach to put out the same lineup at the end of the day.”

(How are you feeling about playing out wide?) “I like it. It’s not an easy job. I think as a player you always want to challenge yourself. I think the best players in the world—the players that are trying to better themselves—always want to be challenged. It says a lot about me. It says a lot about the coach having confidence in me. He sees another part of my game that previously coaches hadn’t seen. And for me, I’m delighted to try and learn as much as I can to better myself as a soccer player.”

(Had you played out wide much before Jurgen started using you there?) “Never played out there with the national team. Played a couple times at Fulham. Played there when I went on loan with Preston. I like it. I like going at guys with the ball. I like making runs in behind the defense without the ball. It’s a position where you can see a lot of the field. You get the ball facing the goal, you’re back isn’t always to goal, and you can do the one-twos, and like I said, making runs without the ball and running at guys. For me, I like it. It’s something that I still want to get better at as I get the opportunity to play out there. At the end of the day, as a player you want to be on the field. I’m on the field, and I can’t be any happier.”

(Was there any pride in having three Sounders start for their countries in Tuesday’s game?) “Yeah, it’s good. It goes to show you about this organization. We have big ambitions as an organization and we want to try and get the best players here and compete in a difficult league for the MLS Cup. Having three guys out on that field says a lot about the club and the direction we’re trying to go in.”

(How does it feel coming back?) “Feels good. A bit bittersweet because it’s a quick turnaround, but it’s good to be back here with the boys. This is where I work. This is my home right now. This is Brad’s home. This is our family. To be away for three weeks and come back after the Jamaica game and see us get a really good win and seeing the guys play some amazing football, it’s something that you’re anxious to get back to and be a part of. I’m glad to be back. It’s a quick turnaround, so I want to make sure I get as much work in that’s needed for us to be ready to prepare ourselves for a tough game on Saturday.”

(What was it like having that crowd behind you Tuesday?) “It was pretty cool. We had a pep rally before the game and Coach Jurgen talked about how difficult it is to play with the altitude and how passionate fans are there. I said, yeah, I can agree with how passionate the fans are there, because when I come there … I get a lot of abuse from them. But it was good to be on the other side and seeing when you wear the U.S. jersey how everyone comes together. At the end of the day, it just goes to show you about the passion here in America and how much it’s grown, soccer. When you go away now versus 10 years ago, you really feel like you’re playing an away game because of the soccer-specific stadiums and how much the sport has really grown in America. I’m blessed to be a part of this at witnessing how big the sport has come in the last 10 years.”

(You feel ready to play Saturday?) “Man, I’m ready to go. The team has been playing well, and I think right now it’s all about being on the right page. Our team has formed a lot of chemistry and has been doing well since we’ve been away, so if it’s coming off the bench or if it’s starting, whatever my role is, I’m going to go out and give my best. If it’s coming off the bench, I’m off the bench, because our two strikers are hot right now. They’re scoring goals and you don’t want to break their rhythm.”

(Can you compare this qualifying cycle to the last time you were involved heavily back for 2006?) “I think it’s totally different. I think CONCACAF has gotten a lot harder over the years. You’ve got a lot of the players in CONCACAF are playing in our league or playing at the highest level in other leagues throughout the world. To see the table and see where the other countries are, whereas in previous years it’s either Mexico or us at the top. But to see the Panamas up there, the Costa Ricas up there, Honduras, everyone that’s made it to the Hex is a great team. That’s why they’re there. For us, we just want to take it one game at a time. I know statistically right now we’re on top, but that doesn’t mean it can’t change quickly. That’s the difficulty of the Hexagonal.”

(Did Jurgen talk to you about the Gold Cup at all?) “No. He hasn’t mentioned anything. I’m pretty sure whatever group of guys is out there … everyone is excited. For MLS-based players and guys playing in Mexico, it’s a time for them to show the coach what they can do when they’re out there on the field. It’s going to be an exciting time for whoever is going to be a part of the tournament, but I know the guys are looking forward to it.”

| More in Stop and chats

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