Eddie Johnson: English trained, American success
Eddie Johnson has been in good hands all his life.
His father coached his Under 12s team Newton Athletic, near the family home in Chester, England (which is half-way between Manchester and Liverpool). Sir Alex Ferguson ran the rule over him in the Manchester United Academy. Ferguson gave him his first team start at age 17 in a League Cup game against Leeds United. With formidable attackers ahead of him, Johnson was loaned out to Coventry City, Antwerp (United’s feeder team in Belgium) and Bradford City.
Coventry’s assistant coach Adrian Heath liked him a lot, and lured him to the USSF D-2 2 Austin Aztex of Texas in 2009, where the goals began to flow.
Heath, now head coach at the Orlando City Soccer team in the newly formed USL Professional Division, says the 26 year-old Johnson is now at his peak.
“Eddie’s an incredibly hardworking professional and a great teammate,” Heath said recently by phone from Orlando. “He always gives his best whether it’s Monday to Friday training or a big game. He comes to work every day prepared.”
Heath knows Johnson about as well as anybody does in soccer, and Johnson thinks of him as his mentor.
“It’s great that he’s gone to a club that will look after him, and a coach (John Spencer) that will get the most out of him.”
The Orlando coach praised Johnson’s running and strength on the ball.
“He’s got great strength; once he’s in his stride he’s very hard for defenders to shake off the ball. Also, he’s the kind of player that scores late in the game because he’s worked on the center back for the full 90 minutes.”
“He’s a great finisher,” continues Heath. “Goalkeepers are sometimes surprised by him, the fact that he’ll have a go from 30 yards out.”
Those combination of skills led to an excellent season last year with the USSF D-2 Austin Aztex where Johnson scored 14 goals leaving him second in the league trailing only current teammate Ryan Pore.
His signature move at corners is the front post header, trying to flick it on or in. It’s a straight-ahead, workman-like approach to getting the job done.
“The way I was brought up was you just got to win, even if it’s ugly,” said Johnson. “We want to win things, we’re not here to make up the numbers (in MLS). I know the fans want to see a good game and quality, but if we end up winning one-nil with a scrappy goal, I’ll take that every week if it means we do well.”
Generally, though, he says the Timbers fans can expect an exciting game.
“[We’ve] had the wingers going up and down and getting crosses in,” adds Johnson. “If you add that to the atmosphere it’s going to be a great experience for everyone. If the fans are in good voice it helps the players play well.”
Some of the loudest crowds he has played for include Antwerp and Coventry, and against, Leeds, so he values vocal support from the fans.
He started out as a midfielder, but at 14, a coach suggested he try playing as an out and out striker. He scored twice and never looked back.
“My heroes growing up were Ian Wright, the Arsenal striker, and as I got older Alan Shearer [from Newcastle and Blackburn] and Andy Cole—especially when he was at Manchester United,” remembers Johnson. “They were such great players to watch.”
Growing up with those heroes and a football-mad family led to multiple footballing rivalries in the Johnson clan. “I’m an Everton supporter with my uncle,” said Johnson.
“My dad (who also coached the Liverpool U10 and U12s teams at the Liverpool Youth Academy) supports West Ham. We’re not sure why, he says it’s because of Bobby Moore. My brother’s Man United and my granddad’s Man City. It keeps it interesting through the season anyway.”
This overseas soccer pedigree brings a wealth of experience. At Austin, many of the players were just out of college, whereas Johnson is now in his 10th year of playing full time—an asset that should serve him well in the Rose City.
He first heard about Portland’s interest in acquiring him early last year when he was playing for the Aztex.
“I’d been to the city once to play Portland and the atmosphere was pretty European. Once they confirmed they wanted to take me, it was an easy decision.”