D.C. United made Eddie Johnson the club’s highest-paid player Thursday, signing the U.S. national team forward to a Designated Player contract two days before the season opener.
Terms were not disclosed and MLS salary figures will not become public until May. But sources familiar with the deal said the contract is guaranteed for two years and will pay him as much as $650,000 this season.
Designated Player status is applied to players earning more than $387,500 in base salary this year. MLS covers costs up to that threshold, with team investors responsible for the balance.
Acquired in a trade with Seattle in December, Johnson was already under contract in 2014, with base earnings around $175,000. But as part of the agreement that brought him to Washington, United promised to explore a pay raise and long-term commitment. Had the sides failed to reach a deal, United ran the risk of losing him to free agency and a move overseas next winter. The club also risked the temperamental Johnson becoming distracted by the contract situation.
“We made the trade because we were committed, at least in principle, to have a DP discussion,” United General Manager Dave Kasper said. “It’s hard to find this kind of player, someone who was a perfect fit for what we needed.”
Johnson, who resurrected his fading career with 23 regular season goals in two years with Seattle, is the centerpiece of United’s rebuilding efforts following last year’s 3-24-7 campaign. United posted 22 goals and suffered 16 shutouts. No individual scored more than three times.
Finalizing the deal “takes a lot of weight off my shoulders. I am so happy D.C. was willing to show commitment and faith in me,” said Johnson, a Florida native who last season earned a fraction of what the Sounders paid forwards Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins. After scoring in a match against Columbus late last season, Johnson rubbed his fingers together and mouthed “Pay me.”
In the larger context, Johnson, who turns 30 on March 31, said he is, “at my age and at this stage of my career, at a defining point. … I’m tired of moving around. I want to be here in MLS. … I’m hungry and want to prove what I have left in the tank. I’m determined to be successful here.”
With the paperwork completed Thursday morning, “it should put him in a good mind-set,” Kasper said. “It’s something he doesn’t have to worry about. He can just concentrate on the season.”
Johnson played five seasons in Dallas and two in Kansas City before a checkered European tour with Fulham, Cardiff City and Preston North End in the English leagues and Aris in Greece. His 19 goals (in 62 national team appearances) are eighth on the U.S. career scoring list. He is a top candidate for the World Cup squad, which will report to training camp in California in mid-May. Assuming he is selected, Johnson would miss at least seven MLS matches.
Johnson is slated to make his regular season debut for United on Saturday night against the Columbus Crew at RFK Stadium.
Kasper described the negotiations with Richard Motzkin, Johnson’s agent, as “very amicable. It went very smoothly.”
As part of the process, Kasper and managing partner Jason Levien visited Johnson at U.S. training camp in January in Los Angeles. They wanted to get to know him and get a feel for his long-term outlook.
“We spoke a long time,” Kasper said. “He mostly talked about his kids and wanting to settle in one place and focus on his soccer.”
Said Johnson: “They made it clear I was one of the important guys to build a team around. To have them come see me, to get calls from [Coach] Ben Olsen and the other owners, that meant a lot to me.”