D.C. United forward Eddie Johnson apologized to teammates Thursday for comments he made in a story that appeared on MLSsoccer.com a day earlier.
In explaining his difficulty adapting to United’s style after two years with Seattle, Johnson said: “In Seattle – and no disrespect to the guys that are here – I felt like I didn’t have to run as much because we had better guys that had more quality on the ball.”
Johnson addressed the team in the locker room at RFK Stadium before practice.
“It was very important for me to take the guys aside this morning and tell them, ‘Look, the words were misperceived,’” he told the Insider. “I wasn’t trying to go at my teammates. It was more [about] adapting to this new style that I have to get used to. That is what has been challenging.”
Johnson, United’s marquee winter acquisition and highest-paid player, has not scored in seven appearances. He missed last weekend’s match at Portland with a hamstring injury but is slated to play in some capacity Saturday afternoon against the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park.
“I wanted to give them peace of mind,” he added. “I don’t want them to think I am better than them. That’s always been the perception of my career: I’m a prima donna, I’m a bad teammate, I’m bad in the locker room. That’s not the case.”
Johnson first discussed the issue with Coach Ben Olsen.
“When it happened, I talked to Benny and said, ‘What have I done now?’ I told him I would talk to the team because this is bad timing and, ‘You know and I know this isn’t the case.’ I would never downplay my teammates, especially when I need them for success. They have been bailing me out in these seven games.”
Olsen said the group has moved on. “We’re all on the same page here. He has been a valuable piece to what we are doing and will continue to be. … The article as a whole was very positive and I’m sure he would take back a line or two from that interview.”
Said veteran defender Jeff Parke: “If he had come out and said, ‘These guys suck, I can’t play with them, I don’t know why I am here,’ that’s a different situation. That is not what was said. I don’t mind it. He owns up to whatever was said and clears the air. We trust in him and believe in him.”
Aside from the apology, Johnson aimed to alleviate any simmering issues.
“These are the guys I come to work with every day and I’ve got to see on a daily basis,” he said. “You don’t want to have any distractions. If there is any type of tension or distraction in the locker room, it could show on the weekend.”
Johnson acknowledged the timing of the comments were also poor, both for a club that is beginning to bond after a slow start and for him ahead of World Cup training camp, which will open next week at Stanford University. U.S. national team coach Juergen Klinsmann keeps close tabs on his roster candidates, not just how they perform but how they work in their club and what they say in the media. Klinsmann has emphasized the importance of team chemistry and individual character in building his World Cup squad. (Johnson is no stranger to off-field matters.)
Before the recent story, Johnson was already in danger of falling on the depth chart because of the scoring rut. Klinsmann will trim the 30-player camp roster to 23 before FIFA’s June 2 deadline.
“I have never been the type of player to throw my teammates under the bus or talk down upon them,” Johnson said. “That is where the whole thing got blown out of proportion. I am happy to be here in D.C. I think the whole thing got misperceived. It’s a great group of guys in the locker room [and] I look forward to coming to work every day.”
*Right back Sean Franklin, who missed the Portland trip with a foot injury, did not practice Thursday and is “extremely doubtful” for the Philadelphia match, Olsen said. Chris Korb is expected to start again.
*Local TV on Saturday: Comcast SportsNet, 4 p.m.
*Referee: Geoff Gamble (bio).
*For its Play of the Week, the Professional Referee Organization reviews the penalty call in the United-Timbers match that was correctly changed.
*United’s third-division affiliates, the Richmond Kickers, will host expansion Arizona United (2-1-1) at 7 p.m. Friday. Joe Willis, Conor Shanosky, Christiano Francois and one to three other DCU players to be determined will report to the Kickers (2-1-3). Arizona is coached by former University of Maryland player and assistant Michael Dellorusso (FC Dallas midfielder) and features ex-Terrapins London Woodberry, Matt Kassel and Widner Saint Cyr, plus Georgetown alum Joey Dillon.
*The concert following United’s friendly against Fulham FC on July 26 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville is set: Carrie Underwood.
*Olsen says his wife Megan is expecting their third child, a boy, in late July.