D.C. United’s Eddie Johnson played a crucial role as the U.S. national soccer team qualified for the World Cup, but when the Americans board their charter to Brazil next month, the veteran forward won’t be on it.
In a surprising decision announced Monday, Coach Juergen Klinsmann did not name Johnson to the 30-player training camp roster. The group will begin workouts this week at Stanford University and play three tuneups at home before departing for Sao Paulo. The final roster of 23 players is due June 2.
Johnson, 30, was the co-leader in appearances last year (17) and scored the go-ahead goal in a 2-0 victory over Mexico in September, a result that clinched a seventh consecutive World Cup berth. In the 10-game final round of qualifying, he made four starts and entered as a sub four times. He didn’t play in the last two games because the team had already clinched.
Klinsmann, however, suggested Johnson had fallen behind other forwards competing for roster slots.
“It was a very difficult decision based on what he has done with me the whole time,” Klinsmann said. “I always recognize Eddie’s value and his strengths overall, not only scoring very important goals for us but getting us to Brazil. He is a player who can make a difference within a second of being on the field with scoring a goal or making an assist.”
Johnson was once considered a sure thing for the squad, but his stock began to tumble this spring. He has failed to score a goal in eight MLS appearances since joining United from Seattle in December. He squandered several clear chances in early matches, and one apparent goal was disallowed (incorrectly) by an offside call Saturday at Philadelphia.
Johnson did not help his cause last week by making mildly disparaging comments about United teammates. He apologized to the group the next day. Although the matter did not involve the national team, Klinsmann takes character and off-field issues into account when assembling a team that will spend at least six weeks together.
Klinsmann, however, said the comments “had nothing to do with the decision.”
Even though Johnson was not in top form with United, most observers believed he would at least receive an invitation to training camp.
In a statement released by United, Johnson said: “While I am disappointed not to have the chance to represent the U.S. team in Brazil, I respect Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s decision. I believe in, and support, my U.S. teammates, and I wish the best for our team and our nation at the World Cup.”
Johnson’s absence from the national team will benefit United (4-3-2), which had been bracing to play up to eight league matches without him.
“It is unfortunate that Eddie won't be a part of the U.S. team at this summer's World Cup,” General Manager Dave Kasper said in a prepared statement. “But we support him, stand by him and believe in him as a talented and crucially important player for our club.”
Klinsmann informed Johnson of the decision Sunday.
“You try to make them understand that it’s very little things that move a coach toward this or that player,” Klinsmann said. He did not elaborate. However, the German-born coach said Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, who are typically midfielders with the national team, are in the mix for front-line assignments in Brazil.
Johnson, though, has served as both a forward and midfielder for Klinsmann, a versatility that would have seemed to bolster his cause.
Instead, he was passed over in favor of forwards Terrence Boyd, who enjoyed a sensational season with Rapid Vienna, and Chris Wondolowski, MLS’s top scorer over three years; and attack-minded midfielders Joe Corona, who was not playing regularly for Tijuana, and Julian Green, 18, a Bayern Munich prospect with one U.S. appearance.
Green, who is among six German Americans on the 30-man list, scored 15 goals for Bayern’s fourth-division team. He was sidelined for a month with a shoulder injury and has fully recovered, Klinsmann said.
Johnson is not the only U.S. veteran in a scoring rut: Jozy Altidore, 24, recorded just one goal for Sunderland in the just-completed Premier League season and fell out of the starting lineup. Altidore’s place on the camp roster was never in question, though, because he has ascended further than Johnson in his club career and led the U.S. team in scoring in 2013 (eight goals in 14 matches).
“Jozy is still a very young player,” Klinsmann said. “He is going through a learning curve, and one big learning curve was this year at Sunderland. We’ve worked with him over the last three years from a much younger player into a more mature player. . . . We see Jozy in the development phase. Jozy is not built yet. Jozy has not reached his potential yet.”
Several players with Washington ties were invited to camp: former University of Maryland players Graham Zusi, Omar Gonzalez, Maurice Edu and Clarence Goodson (W.T. Woodson High); Crofton native Kyle Beckerman; and former United goalkeeper Nick Rimando.