Johnson, 29, led the Sounders in goals each of the past two seasons, posting 23 overall in 49 league appearances. His resurgence with the U.S. team this year put him on solid footing to join Juergen Klinsmann‘s World Cup squad in Brazil next summer.
“Eddie is in the prime of his career,” United General Manager Dave Kasper said. “He has become a complete striker.”
Although Johnson is under contract in 2014 at an estimated $175,000, United has agreed to open talks about restructuring the deal and elevating him to designated player status. A new pact was at the crux of his departure from the Sounders.
DPs are high-value players who earn in excess of $370,000. In the centralized league, MLS covers contracts up to that threshold; club investors are responsible for the balance.
“We’re committed to making Eddie a designated player; it will be a process,” Kasper said, without specifying a timetable. “Eddie wants to be rewarded for his overall production in the past two years. We’re going to do our best to make it happen.”
United has been clearing the payroll since the 3-24-7 season ended in October, dumping captain Dwayne De Rosario, a designated player at $600,000, and several other veterans on high- or mid-level contracts. The club did not have any other DPs this past season.
Johnson had been seeking a raise in Seattle, where his $150,000 salary this year was dwarfed by fellow forwards Clint Dempsey ($4.9 million) and Obafemi Martins ($1.6 million). His frustration spilled out in September, when, after scoring against Columbus, he rubbed his fingers together and mouthed “Pay Me” repeatedly. The antic did not sit well in Seattle.
United officials had a “great talk” with Johnson last week, Kasper said. “There is a comfort level. He has matured. Deep down, he is a great person.”
Johnson was teammates with United Coach Ben Olsen on the national team at the 2006 World Cup and with newly acquired D.C. midfielder Davy Arnaud in Kansas City several years ago.
“I’m excited with this move to the most storied franchise in MLS, and I look forward to getting started with my new D.C. United teammates,” Johnson said in a written statement.
With no intention of retaining him next year, the Sounders put him on the market last month. The Los Angeles Galaxy, Chivas USA and Philadelphia Union had also expressed interest in acquiring him, multiple sources said.
Dynamic and brash, Johnson is a menacing and experienced attacker with pace, a powerful finishing touch and lethal heading ability. D.C.’s natural strikers posted five goals in 65 combined appearances in 2013 as the club finished with 22 goals in 34 regular season matches, the second-lowest scoring total in MLS ever.
United targeted several forwards, mostly inside MLS, and “Eddie was at the top of the list,” Kasper said. “We started negotiations about a month ago and things heated up in the past week.”
In Washington, Johnson will need to mix with Chris Pontius, a 2012 MLS Best XI midfielder hampered by injuries this year; winger Nick DeLeon, a rookie of the year finalist in ’12 who stumbled this season; Luis Silva, a promising central acquisition from Toronto last summer; and Arnaud, a central and wide midfielder acquired from Montreal last week.
Johnson, a Florida native, signed with MLS in 2001 at age 16. He enjoyed a breakthrough season in ’04, scoring 12 goals. Two years later, he was traded to Kansas City. After recording 15 goals and six assists in 2007, Fulham in England’s Premier League purchased him for $6 million. He did not fare well in four years overseas, failing to score for Fulham and going on loan to Cardiff City (England’s second tier), Aris (Greece) and Preston North End (England’s second tier).
In summer 2011, he reneged on an tentative agreement to return to MLS and, in the winter, joined Mexican club Puebla. He lasted only a few training sessions. Two months later, he signed with MLS. Montreal selected him in the allocation process for returning U.S. national team players, then traded him to Seattle for two players. Once earning more than $800,000 in MLS, Johnson signed for $100,000. He responded with an all-star season and returned to the national team fold.
Johnson made his U.S. debut in 2004, scoring against El Salvador in a World Cup qualifier. Three days later, he recorded a hat trick against Panama at RFK Stadium. He appeared in two matches at the 2006 World Cup in Germany under Bruce Arena but, amid his slumping form in Europe, did not make Bob Bradley‘s squad four years later.
Buoyed by his MLS performances, Johnson scored four times in the 2014 qualifying cycle, most notably the opening goal against Mexico in September as the Americans clinched a World Cup berth. With 19 international goals, he is eighth on the U.S. program’s all-time list.
United has not employed a regular member of the U.S. national team since Olsen in 2006-07. Goalkeeper Bill Hamid is in Klinsmann’s broader player pool and Pontius has received periodic call-ups.
Like several other MLS players, Johnson would miss at least seven regular season matches while on World Cup assignment. MLS is taking a two-week break during the group phase of the tournament, but players will report to camp in May and, even if the Americans do not advance to the knockout stage, they will require time to recuperate.
Johnson is expected to report to Klinsmann’s camp in January and miss the first week of United workouts, which will begin around Jan. 24. United’s season opener is March 8 against the Columbus Crew at RFK.
United notes: The club finalized forward Conor Doyle‘s permanent transfer from English club Derby County. He had two goals and one assist in 14 appearances (eight starts) on loan this year. … United will pick first in the second stage of MLS’s re-entry draft Wednesday, starting at 3 p.m. ET. D.C. claimed defenders Sean Franklin (Los Angeles) and Bobby Boswell (Houston) in the first stage last week. … United has not reached new deals with defenders James Riley and Daniel Woolard, and midfielder John Thorrington. All had their contract options declined. They are available in Wednesday’s draft. If none are selected, the club could re-start talks. … United has interviewed several candidates — domestic and foreign — for the assistant coaching vacancy, created by Josh Wolff‘s move to Columbus’s staff. The club is aiming to make a hire before the scouting combine, Jan. 10-14 in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.