United would send financial considerations in the form of allocation money to the Sounders for Johnson, 29, who scored 23 goals in 49 league matches the past two seasons. The Florida native revived his career in Seattle after four disappointing years in Europe and became an important part of Juergen Klinsmann‘s roster in qualifying for the World Cup next summer in Brazil.
United is in the hunt for an accomplished forward this winter after scoring 22 goals — second fewest in MLS history — and winning three of 34 matches, a league low.
The Sounders have shopping Johnson for weeks, and on Friday, all but ended his tenure when they acquired the rights to veteran striker Kenny Cooper from FC Dallas. “He will not return to Seattle — that’s done,” one source said. “It’s a matter of where he goes in MLS.”
Initially, at least five clubs wanted Johnson, but as talks heated up, the list slimmed to three or four this week.
No one contacted about the negotiations wanted to be quoted on the record because of the sensitivity of the process. United officials declined to speculate about roster moves.
Despite his scoring production in Seattle — his 14 goals in 2012 were a single-season club record — Johnson made just $150,000 in base salary. Fellow forwards Clint Dempsey ($4.9 million) and Obafemi Martins ($1.6 million) dwarfed him on the payroll.
In September, shortly after Dempsey’s arrival, Johnson rubbed his fingers together and mouthed “Pay Me” several times following a goal in Columbus. He also tweeted his frustration, causing further distraction in the Seattle camp.
Johnson is under contract in 2014 at an estimated $175,000, but to facilitate a move, United and the other suitors would be willing to engage in talks about a new deal, sources said.
United cleared considerable salary cap space this fall by releasing several veterans, including captain Dwayne De Rosario, its highest-compensated player. The club also received allocation funds from MLS for missing the playoffs and qualifying for international competition next year. That money can be applied toward re-signing players and softening the impact of well-compensated players on the salary cap. It could also be traded.
United has been busy and productive the past week. It claimed starting defenders Bobby Boswell and Sean Franklin in MLS’s re-entry draft and acquired veteran midfielder Davy Arnaud from Montreal.
Aside from Johnson, additional attacking help could arrive soon. If the club does not trade the No. 1 overall pick in the Jan. 16 draft, United might select Maryland all-American forward Patrick Mullins, the NCAA’s leading scorer who will lead Maryland into the College Cup final Sunday afternoon against Notre Dame at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.
Johnson began his national team career in 2004 and has scored 19 goals in 61 appearances. After falling on the depth chart while in Europe, this year he recorded five goals in 17 U.S. matches (nine starts) and posted the opening goal in a 2-0 victory over Mexico in September, a result that clinched a World Cup berth. His best single-game performance was, at age 20, netting a hat trick against Panama qualifier nine years ago at RFK Stadium.
Video of the goal vs. Mexico:
Video of his 2012 exploits:
Video of Johnson’s “Pay Me” moment: