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December 23, 2013 at 4:28 PM

Talking about Eddie Johnson with a guy who has known him for 15 years

Photo credit: John Lok, The Seattle Times

Photo credit: John Lok, The Seattle Times

I had the chance to speak with Trevor Moawad on Monday. The name probably isn’t familiar, but you might remember I spoke with him last year for a story on Eddie Johnson (admittedly, an interesting read 20 months later).

Moawad has known Johnson for about 15 years dating to their teams at the IMG Academy, where Moawad had been the director of performance (helping with sports psychology-related practices) and Johnson came up through the U.S. national team’s residency program. 

The two have stayed close over the years, so I figured it would be a good time to catch up following Johnson’s trade to D.C. United. Moawad has since moved on to become the vice president of pro and elite sports for Athletes’ Performance, a company based in Arizona that has ties through coaches to the USMNT, Germany’s national team, MLS teams (Sporting Kansas City and Toronto FC) and some international club teams (Everton in England, Galatasaray in Turkey), among others.

The conversation was mainly about Johnson with a nugget about Freddy Adu, who Moawad has also known for a while, at the end:

*     *     *

When did you last catch up with Eddie Johnson and how is he doing?

“I just talked to him last week, probably for about an hour. … At that point, really, we were trying to figure things out. He was looking at some options. There were two or three MLS teams that were interested in him. (D.C. United coach) Ben Olsen is somebody that I know well and Eddie knows well. Ben is a guy who was obviously a very talented player, and I think it’s going to be a good opportunity for Eddie. He’s got a lot going on this year. I think motivationally, he’s in a good frame of mind. I believe this is the last year of his deal, as well. I think if he does the things he’s capable of doing, I think he can have a lot of great options after the World Cup.”

There have been reports that he could be getting a new deal at DP-type money even before this upcoming season…

“I would hope that Eddie will consider going back to Europe. That would be my hope. I believe he still has the ability to play at that level and I would hope that he would finish his career in Europe. I know his game. He can play well in Major League Soccer, so I’m sure D.C. will give him a good look, but I hope that Eddie finishes his career in Europe, and he knows my feelings on that.”

When we talked last year, the conversation was mostly about Eddie reviving his career. Now that he’s done that, what are the things that you have been working on with him?

“To me, it’s about really about taking advantage of the opportunities he’s created for himself. The four to five months he was actually away from soccer, after he was out of contract with Fulham and before he had signed with Seattle, I think that gave him a unique opportunity. Sometimes when you’re not getting a paycheck and you’re away from the sport, it really allows you reevaluate some things. I think whole experience was positive for Eddie.”

“You see some of the things, some of the ways he reacts physically, and some of the ways the soccer community responds to Eddie from time to time, it fascinates me because if Eddie was a college football or college basketball player, there would be nothing different about him.”

“I think the soccer community doesn’t understand sometimes how to deal with sort of emotional players that have grown up the way Eddie has grown up. Selfishly, sometimes I wish Eddie would have been coached by (Alabama football coach) Nick Saban or (Florida State coach) Jimbo Fisher, because I don’t think he would sort of be a misunderstood guy if he came through the football world. You know what I mean?”

“I think soccer-wise, he scores a goal and he wears his emotions on his sleeve, similar to the way a guy celebrates a touchdown. He’s passionate. He’s been through a lot of challenges personally. His life has been challenging. We talk about it all the time — that life doesn’t stop for soccer — it’s going to go on good or bad, and he’s responsible for managing that and he’s responsible for being the best teammate, the best player, the best athlete he can be.”

“I just think some of the reactions people have to Eddie, and some of the issues he’s had, to me, really are not issues outside of the soccer world and outside of the American soccer world. I think he’s passionate. He can get frustrated.”

“I think Seattle did a great thing giving him the opportunity to come back and play. I think Eddie knew that when he signed a multiyear deal that he was going to be worth the money really quickly, but just because you’re worth the money doesn’t mean they necessarily have to pay you more. I think really Seattle was an opportunity for Eddie to remind people just how talented he was, and I think it’s up to Eddie to take that next step and really finish his career by validating the promise that he’s shown since he was a Project 40 17-year-old.”

“One of the things we’ve talked about is, ‘Can we go to the World Cup and be a significant player?’ He played in 2006 … had some moments, but didn’t really make an impact on that team. So I think the goals are, ‘How can I have a good successful club season and go on and become a significant contributor?’ … He just wants the opportunity to play.”

“I know he enjoys playing for Coach Klinsmann and I know he really enjoys playing on the U.S. team. And I think he’s really enjoyed his experience in Seattle. I think it’s just a nice opportunity for Eddie to really have a good season in D.C. and position himself to have a great World Cup. I think if he’s able to do that, and the team has success, and he’s a part of that, hopefully he’ll have some really good options after that.”

You mentioned you’ve told Eddie you’d like to see him play in Europe. Do you feel European teams are better positioned than MLS teams to handle him?

“To be honest, I don’t know a lot about Major League Soccer, just some of the issues that I see, some of the things that draw strong reactions people in MLS, they don’t seem to be very different to what happens every weekend in college football and pro football. So personally, I think it would be a better situation for Eddie to finish his career in Europe.”

“I just know Eddie well, and in my role, I’m very (involved) in the sports world, particularly football, and the challenges that Eddie has, they just don’t seem abnormal to what I deal with all the time. With him it just seems to be sort of like, ‘Geez, how do you manage this guy?’ — like it’s a challenge. My hope would be in Europe that it wouldn’t be an issue, maybe some of his over-intensity and some of the areas that seem to be upsetting for the American soccer community. Does that make sense? I just don’t think his issues are significant.”

“It’s just a matter of managing that fire that burns high in him. He’s driven to be successful and it’s just a matter of really managing his motivation and keeping him pointed the right direction, because he’s got such great talent.”

“Our statement always is proving to people that he’s for real. I’ve known Eddie since he was 14, one of the unique things about Eddie is he’ll always call me to see how I’m doing and how my wife is doing and how my family is doing. He’s just a really good kid. To read some of the things that you see out there, it’s just people don’t understand how quality of a person he is and how caring he is to those who have been around him. I’ve been with him when he lost his best friend, when he lost his cousin, been at his wedding — he’s just a neat kid. I think he’s got some quality years still left in him.”

You alluded to some negative comments following the trade and some people up here feel he’s been made into a scapegoat for the disappointing year. Have you or Eddie picked up on that?

“When Eddie and I talked, we reflected upon the experience, and I think he’s going to leave with a positive feeling about his time in Seattle. He understands that when the team isn’t as successful as people would hope, there are always going to be a variety of reasons why. I think his feeling is he gave his best during the time that he was here, and I don’t think he feels like he was a scapegoat. I just think he recognizes that the team didn’t do as well as it could do, and he’s disappointed.”

“I think he looks back at his time in Seattle and he’s very appreciative that Chris Henderson and Coach Schmid gave him the opportunity, but I think he also feels like he rewarded them for their decision to take a risk on him. It would seem to most people like it was an arrangement that worked out well for both groups.”

“I think Eddie really enjoyed the city. I think he thought the fans were amazing. You know when you’re right in the middle of the struggle, sometimes it’s hard to have perspective, but Eddie seemed to have a lot of perspective when I spoke to him and was very appreciative of his time here. He’s also looking forward to going to play for Ben Olsen, and helping D.C. sort of get things turned around, and putting himself in a position where he can contribute to a pretty amazing World Cup in a tough group.”

“To get to play a World Cup in Brazil is going to be pretty amazing, so for me the fairy tale is Eddie goes and has a good season at D.C., plays in the World Cup, and gets another significant offer in Europe, which can help position him and his family for years to come.”

That would be a pretty poetic ending, huh?

“It would be, and I’ll tell you what, I think he’s done a lot for the game. I think whether it’s Clint Mathis or Eddie… when Clint retired, people realized, ‘You know, we’re going to miss that guy, and he did a lot for the game.’ I think Eddie is a great personality for soccer. I think he goes out and he plays hard, and when you turn on the TV, you say, ‘I want to watch that guy play.’ I don’t think we have too many of those guys, so I can see why MLS would want to keep him.”

“Think about his skill set. … I think if he gets the opportunity to go to Europe, he would be much better positioned this next go-around than he probably was the first go-around. But they have to be willing. Obviously you need two people to make that happen. They’re very aware of him (over there). There is no doubt about it.”

“I think had he been able to catch a break early on at Fulham, things might’ve been different for him. But either way, I’m excited because he’s back on track. I think Seattle was great for him. … This was a guy who two years ago was nowhere near the national team, and now he’s really well-positioned to play a major role in D.C.’s rebuilding and then the U.S. making a stand in Brazil.”

How involved will you be with soccer in your new role with Athletes’ Performance as opposed to the IMG Academy?

“I will not be active in the soccer world, just by the virtue of the fact that college football and professional football world is a more effective use of my time, personally. I still have the relationships with probably about 70 percent of the U.S. national team on a personal level because those kids came through the residency program in Bradenton. So for better or for worse, for good and for bad, I talk to the kids all the time.”

“Freddy (Adu) is obviously one of them. With Freddy, it’s a tougher stretch for him right now. He’s out of contract and trying to figure out what he’s going to do next. I think he’ll probably come out to Arizona and train, unless he can get signed somewhere. Obviously the transfer window will not matter for Freddy because he’s not with a team, so he can sign whenever if someone will give him a shot.”

| More in Sounders FC, Stop and chats

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