DC United's Gamble on Eddie Johnson Worth the Risk

Temperamental striker could be the piece United needs to fix scoring woes
by Peter Muller   |   Wednesday, December 18, 2013

John Hefti Photography - Eddie Johnson, DC United

D.C. United’s rebuilding effort took a dramatic turn on Tuesday with the acquisition of controversial U.S. Men’s National Team forward Eddie Johnson from the Seattle Sounders in exchange for unspecified allocation money.

Johnson fits what D.C. needs – an established striker who has scored 23 goals in the last 2 years - but comes with the reputation of a selfish player concerned primarily with the size of his paycheck.

Despite the risks, United’s bet on Johnson is a gamble worth taking.

As the worst team in MLS in 2013, D.C. United suffered from a multitude of deficiencies, but their inability to score goals was their greatest problem.

In 16 of their 34 league games they failed to score a single goal. The team leaders in goals – Luis Silva, Dwayne DeRosario and Kyle Porter – tallied just 3 each. Throughout the season D.C. lacked any real threat in the final third.

United has searched in vain in recent years for a prototypical striker. Not since Luciano Emilio scored 10 goals for the team in 2009 have they had a consistent, reliable forward.

In 2010 they replaced Emilio with Australian Danny Allsopp, but he scored just 5 goals in his only season with the club.

Charlie Davies scored 11 goals for United in 2011, but manager Ben Olsen lost faith in him and his playing time dwindled as the season went on.

United hoped Albanian Hamdi Salihi would be the answer in 2012, but he scored just 6 goals in limited playing time and was shipped off to China at the end of the year.

But none of the previous efforts to find a goal scorer failed as miserably as in 2013. United touted “young designated player” Rafael as their big hope before the season, but the more telling indication of how the year would go was the signing of washed-up Carlos Ruiz. The 2 forwards scored a grand total of 1 goal in 20 appearances.

Johnson, on the other hand, is a proven goal scorer in MLS. He has reached double-digits in goals in 3 different MLS seasons and tallied 9 last year in just 21 league appearances for the Sounders.

The risk with Johnson is that when he’s not in the right frame of mind his numbers can drop-off considerably.

His 4 years spent in Europe were a total failure and his early immature years in MLS were inconsistent.

But D.C. may be the best spot in MLS for Johnson and his fragile ego.

United is awash in allocation money and will be able to pay Johnson something closer to what he wants and likely will make him a designated player. He will be the focal point of United’s offense, and if he scores goals at the pace he has the last two years with Seattle, he will be well-received by the fans who are desperate to get beyond the 2013 debacle.

He is likely to be part of United’s marketing campaign, which should appeal to him, and will have a platform to show USMNT manager Jurgen Klinsmann that he is worthy of selection to the World Cup team.

And, United has a coach in Olsen and a couple of key veterans including Davy Arnaud and Bobby Boswell who can help keep Johnson focused in the right direction.

Plus, the addition of Johnson suddenly makes United’s attack look somewhat threatening.

If Chris Pontius and Nick Deleon stay healthy and return to the form they showed in 2012, and if Luis Silva can build on the promise he has shown during his short time with D.C., Johnson could be just what United’s offense needs to click into gear.

And United isn’t done. They have the first pick in the second stage of the MLS Re-Entry Draft and, more importantly, the first pick in the SuperDraft in January.

A player such as University of Maryland forward Patrick Mullins could be a nice fit for D.C., which will compete in MLS, the U.S. Open Cup and the CONCACAF Champions League next year.

It is almost a cliché that top strikers are temperamental. But clubs around the world have found a way to put up with questionable behavior by star players if they regularly find the back of the net.

Johnson may try the patience of United’s coaches, management and players, but if he scores goals the way he is capable of it will be a tradeoff they are willing to accept.

NEXT UP: March 8 – D.C. United vs. Columbus Crew, RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C. 7 p.m. EST, MLS Live.


Saint Mary's
Club Domestic:
DC United
Club Foreign:
Peter is a government relations professional in Washington, DC, and Los Angeles, CA. He has been a DC United season ticket holder since 1997 and has attended every MLS Cup except one – in 1998 when he was busy helping his boss get re-elected to Congress.