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Monday Mid-Day Centerback: Johnson’s renaissance an inspiration for future USMNT comeback stories

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Yes, it is only one game, and no, we won’t know whether Eddie Johnson is going to stick around as a regular fixture for the U.S. National Team for the foreseeable future, but his impressive return to the fold is still a development that plenty of people can gain inspiration from.

Consider where Johnson has come from in just the past year. After a failed stint at Fulham, and after being let go by Greek side Aris FC, Johnson’s career appeared to be in free fall. After a failed attempt to sign with Puebla, and a damning rumor that a failed physical killed the deal (a false rumor spread by Puebla’s bosses in an attempt to cover up internal strife at the club), Johnson looked like he was out of options.

Less than a year later, Eddie Johnson is on top of the American soccer world. He’s scoring goals in bunches for one of the top teams in Major League Soccer, and he made a successful return to the national team. In doing so, he has shown a plethora of former U.S. national team players that it is possible to overcome career adversity to regain a place in the national team mix.

The American soccer landscape is filled with players who, at one time or another wore the U.S. colors, only to see their careers take wrong turns and detours away from the kind of glory currently being enjoyed by Johnson. And no, Johnson isn’t the first American in recent years to see his career come back from the dead. Fellow U.S. striker Herculez Gomez also blazed a similar path, and continues to show that a national team career can be revived at the age of 30.

With success stories like Johnson’s and Gomez’s in mind, here is a look at some players who aren’t currently in the national team mix, but who could work their way back into the mix after roller coaster careers:

Heath Pearce– It wasn’t too long ago, about for years ago to be exact, when Pearce was regarded as the best left back prospect in the national team pool. A return to MLS and lengthy stint at centerback later, Pearce has become a bit of an afterthought in the national team mix. Still one of the better defenders in MLS, Pearce is 28 and definitely has the qualities to make his way back into the national team mix in 2013.

Tim Ream– Few American players have seen their stock drop faster in the past year than Ream, who went from national team starter in the summer of 2011, to struggling to even make the bench for League Championship side Bolton. His big-money transfer to the Trotters fulfilled a dream for him, but it has become a nightmare since the club was relegated. He needs to find a club where he will be able to play and continue developing because his skill set could make him top centerback prospect for Klinsmann one day.

Freddy Adu– An up and down year with the Philadelphia Union saw Adu flash the brilliance that helped him make an impact for the national team at the 2011 Gold Cup, but the Union’s struggles for consistency mirrored his own. He remains one of the most skilled playmakers in the U.S. national team pool, but Klinsmann has already stated that Adu needs to be a consistent force for his club team before he will receive serious consideration for a return to the national team. At 23, it would be foolish to count him out.

Benny Feilhaber– It has been five years since Feilhaber struck that unforgettable game-winning goal against Mexico in the 2007 Gold Cup final, and while he played well off the bench for the U.S. in the 2010 World Cup, he has slowly faded from the picture since signing with MLS and joining the New England Revolution. He has struggled much the way Adu has, but like Adu, he has continued to create quality chances and show flashes of the technical skill that so few Americans possess.

Ricardo Clark– When Clark left the field in the first half of the U.S. team’s World Cup Round of 16 loss to Ghana, it felt like it would be the last we’d see of Clark, but he made a memorable return by scoring a winning goal against Venezuela in a friendly back in January. He has fallen back off the national team radar, but a successful return to the Houston Dynamo should help the 29-year-old work his way back into the mix, though the depth at defensive midfield could precipitate a position change if Clark is going to stick around.


This list could go on and on, and you’ll notice there is nobody 30 or older on the list. That rules out the likes of Jay DeMerit and Brad Davis, who are clearly standouts in MLS, but who have probably seen the last of their days with the national team.

As for players like the ones listed above, who are still young enough to revive their national team hopes, 2013 is going to be a very important year. With the Gold Cup set for this summer, and Hexagonal round World Cup qualifying take place, there are going to be  countless opportunities for both new faces to impress Klinsmann, as well as familiar faces we thought we might never see again.

Players like Gomez and Johnson have reminded us that we can never really count out a player when it comes to the U.S. national team. You never know when a new story of redemption will be written, or when a familiar face from the national team’s past is ready to regain his place.


What do you think of Johnson’s return to the national team? What USMNT reclamation project would you like to see make his way back into the national team fold? Which of the players listed above do you see having the best chance of being a key part of the national team one day?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. “Tim Ream- Few American players have seen their stock drop faster in the past year than Ream”

    Did the stock drop or is a duck, a duck? I don’t even see him becoming a “top centerback” as a direct result of his lack of skill sets.

    Passing doesn’t make you a top defender.

  2. What? No Beasley?

    Sure until he is dead & buried & dug up to have a DNA test confirm his corpse’s identity, he will remain on the possibilities list…

  3. I particularly hope that Heath Pearce works his way back into the mix. If he does, that means that Fabian Johnson could finally move into the midfield, where he’s probably more comfortable. I honestly think Pearce should be given a chance in a serious match. I would say this upcoming Guatemala match, but it’s kind of tomorrow and Juergen doesn’t like calling up replacements anyways…

    Oh well. Guess there’s always Jose Torres as a fullback option 😉 I kid, I kid…

  4. I think the main point should be who shows up in the USMNT games. Its great to have a good season with your club team but does it matter if you don’t show up for the USMNT? Jozy is having a great season and did so last year as well, but that didn’t translate to performance on the field. And he is not the only one either. Wondo is another one. I do like Jozy but at this point would rather see EJ if he can continue to perform like this. I guess we’ll see tomorrow night.

  5. Watching the Dutch league, seems to me that Ream possesses the core skill set that most of their defenders have. Not always the biggest, but good technically and positionally . Might be a good place to develop.

  6. what about Jozy Altidore?

    a once-promising prospect who struggled in multiple European stops, benched by multiple coaches for effort and attitude and did not produce offensively for the National Team, finally began the journey to redemption by leading the tiny, denfively-challenged Dutch league in goals for a season before moving back to MLS and scoring 12 goals for a mid-table club to catch the eye of the national team coach….

    or Eric Lichaj who toiled at an EPL club, getting spot starts and performing well against the minnows such as Chelsea, before moving up to a bottom-feeder Bundesliga club and claiming dual German-American heritage and impressing the USMNT coach…

  7. Wouldn’t it have been nice to have Pearce on the roster when the US’s left backs started to drop like flies befoer the A&B match?

    • Fair point, and I do think his goals need to be seen in context. However, interesting stat: EJ 14 (43 games), Jozy 13 (51). Or EJ 7, Jozy 4. My mind tells me Jozy should be the better player and EJ should be back in the wilderness but it is EJ that has the USA strike rate more like Landon, Clint, or Herculez. Perhaps as much of a statement about Jozy’s indifferent international form as anything else.

  8. I am very skeptical still on Eddie’s national team career. I don’s see either of his goals as special ones (aside from them saving our a$$) and I think better opposition will soon remind us why he was forgotten about long ago. Does anyone else see him walking lazily around the field when he isn’t in the play, this compared to Gomez who is constantly moving and getting into positions, pressuring the defese? That is why I couldn’t stand Johnson in the first place 6 years ago. I saw the same thing last week.

    But….this article pleases me. There are players out there that deserve to get another shot, and CAN make our team better. Adu being the most obvious, Agudelo another.

  9. Ives,

    One correction: Freddy Adu is 32, not 23. He was always older than his stated age and this accounts for his flat career trajectory once he left fraud-ridden Ghana and came to the USA.

    As for EJ, what can I say? I have always been his biggest doubter and still have my concerns. But what would have happened against A&B if our defanged and hapless midfield had given this guy 6-7 balls instead of just 2? Wait, Gordo served up the game winner, so our midfield only served him one ball and he got two header goals, go figure. Have to give Klinsy some credit for the decision and EJ some credit for the skill shown with his head.

  10. He did well, obviously he is the reason we won the game. And I certainly don’t hate the guy.
    But really, is moving to Europe – even lower league teams – and failing miserably at every stop then coming back to a mid-tier league and playing well on a great team REALLY the story we want to praise?
    Seriously, are our expectations so low? I long for the day where we have enough talent where players like Eddie – who don’t cut it in good leagues – are forgotten unless they can step up their game and produce at higher levels.
    I’m sure he is a nice guy, and he preformed for us, but really. This mindset just shows how far we have to go. He went to bigger, better leagues and couldn’t cut. Let’s stop giving him credit for that.

    • Well, the irony is that the guy who’s leading his league in Europe in scoring and is under 25 has been momentarily ousted by the MLS resuscitated EJ.

    • Holden needs to show he can stay healthy for longer than a couple of minutes. He basically hasn’t played in, what, 2 years?

    • That is a tough one. We have to see how he comes back from such a long injury. It could take him a year before he is at the level before his injury.

      I like Holden. I think we need to lower our expectations after the injury. It could be a while before we see the old Holden back.

      • Agreed, but Holden has to remain in the conversation, if for nothing more than his infectious positiveness. Keep in mind, his injuries were inflicted *upon him*, rather than the result of frailty. (although one could argue that his go-for-broke style unnecessarily put him in the path of danger too often). I’m no ortho, but have been injured and operated on often enough to believe that SH’s injuries, unlike CD9’s, are not of the nature that would render him unable to attain the same physical abilities that he possessed pre-injury. And a bit more maturity of when to go-for-broke vs. when to play-it-a-bit-safer could lead to increased longevity, For sure, skills-wise, he is a starter *if* he makes it back all the way.

      • I wouldn’t exactly call his “go for broke” style of play as being the cause of what De Jong did to him, when he caught him on a nasty tackle from behind, or what Evans did, when he went studs up (both feet!) on an otherwise normal challenge.

    • I like him (as a wing, I think everyone forgets)…..but it’s this same Davies/ O’Brien/ Convey story of what am I getting back afterwards, can he stay healthy, do the injuries affect the traits that made them good enough for international duty. With how long he’s been out I think the onus is on him to prove he’s fit and in form at a senior level for a period of time.

  11. Nguyen
    K. Cooper
    just a few more guys to add to this list who went “over there”, and it may not have worked out. But if they can still play at a high-level in MLS, they should stay in contention for at least the US bteam.

    • I was also very impressed with what Nguyen did this year in MLS. I thought he consistently looked like one of the best attacking players on the field each time I watched the Revs play, (which I admit was not every game). He used to be an up and coming talent for PSV…I could see him being a fringe NATS player once again…

    • I was hoping to see Nguyen in Jan, but with his injury, he may lose out. Cooper and Rolfe should be locks for camp cupcake. Both have impressed this season. Rolfe would especially be a good addition.

  12. Woah, EJ’s failed physical was a false rumor?? Was that verified somehow? I had no idea, and I’m on here (and other sites) all the time.

    • Several from US soccer said it was bogus, he was in Bradenton getting fit just before it… Also one thing you can’t say about Eddie, he was never lazy in the gym or training ground.

  13. Freddy Adu will get his shot soon enough. But since he plays the same position as Deuce CF/CAM then in my opinion he will be Dempsey’s back-up come 2014 WC.

    Here is my Russia friendly roster. I left off a lot of MLS players due to the MLS playoffs.

    Gk: Guzan, Howard
    Defense: Dolo, Fabian, Lichaj, Castillo, Cameron, Boca, Goodson, Parkhurst
    Cm’s: Bradley, Williams, Jones, O’Brien, Diskerud
    Am’s: Adu, Shea, Gatt, Kljestan
    FWDS: Altidore, Dempsey, Boyd, Johannsson( possibly), Gomez

    Adu and Shea won’t be in the play-offs.

    • Absolutely agree. Let Russia be the game you throw in a ton of new players. We don’t need an upheavel, the team is doing well in some key areas i.e. pressing further upfield and passing. We need tweaks and the likes of Mix, Gatt, and Corona (who I would add to your list) are key to that. I’d let Dolo rest and keep the Chandler door open. But I’d ask for a public statement from him. I also think you drop Gomez due to traveling strain. Johannsson would be a great addition in his stead.

      Who is O’Brien or is it a joke?

      My starting XI for Russia:


  14. It depends what kind of team takes u back, for example If I was to come back in mls or mexico and I know I could pick the team since my talent talks for itself but if u go into a organization and fan base like the sounders, the reality is you will be pressured to do your best and the fans will help you. I don’t understand why us soccer players go to mexico unless is a big club and will give u playing time besides the money.

  15. Yeah, I am really surprised Charlie Davies wasnt included in the top group. He was a bigger stud than any of the ones listed and has fallen out since injury. Is there any update on him now that he has gone back to Europe?

    • He is a second half sub for Randers(They play in Denmarks top flight) right now, but him being only what 26; I think he still has time to possibly make it back to the USMNT.

      • None of those other guys suffered injuries that completely and irrevocably altered their ability to play soccer. Charlie was a speed demon whose game was pure speed, but now he can’t run fast.

      • I think you’re over-stating your case, my memory was that he was so good because he combined speed with the ability to ballhandle and shield and turn on players like a target man.

        I don’t know what you think of Davies but I almost want to ask his detractors what they think of him personally to see how much is implicit moral criticism. Glass houses, EJ’s own problems, etc.

      • You are correct that he was very strong on the ball and had some excellent turn moves, but I am assuming his overall strength and athleticism were affected as well. These types of accidents are incredibly traumatic and these guys never seem to come all the way back. Just look at Bobby Hurley and Jayson Williams. You can’t just take away the athleticism of a world-class athlete and expect him to come back on sheer skill and will. I’m not CD9 detractor, I loved that guy. The bottom line is that he’s playing in a bad league after being dropped by both DC and Sochaux. You’ve got to think that if he truly still had it, that we’d see some evidence of it and that his managers would also. Instead, he is toiling away in Denmark. I’d love to see him come all the way back, but history says he never will.

      • I am not a huge Charlie Davis fan, but I would be perfectly happy to see him at least regain his pre-injury form. With that being said, the reason I don’t expect him to make a comeback with the MNT is his level of play since returning to the field. I suppose he still has a few years to try to get back to MNT level, but due to the extent of his injuries, I am not holding my breath.

  16. After Edson Buddle started playing well in his late 20’s I’ve been saying there was hope for Johnson to put it together. Here he is at 28 and back to beating up on helpless island nations, let’s see if he can do it against big teams, he deserves a shot.

    • Buddle has been terrible for the Galaxy this year. He needs to show he can do it at club level before getting another shot with the Nats.

      • Agreed that he needs to show he can do it before retuning to the Nats, but saying he’s been terrible for the Galaxy is a bit harsh considering that he has been injured almost all season and that he is just returning to form.

    • His return to professional soccer is amazing enough, but I just don’t see this one coming true. Best of luck to Charlie, but his best days are probably behind him.

    • I’d have looked for him also, after the initial recovery. However, when he followed that up with another driving incident as soon as he got back to France, it seemed to show that his mental outlook isn’t right, as far as accountability and responsibility.

    • Let him score his first goal at his new team. Then let him start for half a season. Then let him start playing at a level that sees him impacting his team most games. Then see him scoring consistently. Then we can talk about a camp cupcake opportunity.

      But from everything I’ve seen and read, he’ll play out the rest of his career far below the potential he had. Let him be a lesson to all young players: Listen to your coach. Those rules are there for a reason.

    • I agree, by the point where you are calling up EJ and Gordon it’s time to consider Davies, even if diminished. People leave out how he had double digit goals for DC on the way back out the door.

      It’s worth noting that Klinsi’s habit of retaining as many players as possible match to match complicates the process of player assessment. Ideally all these different candidates would get looks at something like a Scotland game, a la Camp Cupcake. This is more like how Bradley handled the roster. Now we focus more on continuity and the result is we’re blind when we go off script. We have no idea what DeMerit, et al would play like.

  17. Agree Demerit should be getting looks. But Adu provides the best potential. His creativity and vision are stellar when he’s on. And the times I have seen him play for the US and the Olympic team – he was simply…great. JK said he needs to play consistently – he’s done that. Yes he’s been up and down but we all agree he has the weakest surrounding cast in MLS. JK should be calling him in every single camp and working with him. It’s a big mistake not to. Do you guys agree?

    • The problem with Freddy Adu has never been in his talent and potential. It’s always been in his work ethic and sense of entitlement in addition to not having his head screwed on right.

    • Adu will edge his way back in. You can’t play the way we’re playing not expect to see changes in attack after we get through this level of qualifying. I think Klinsi expected more from the group he chose, and although he wants changes, has kept with them figuring it’s better to stick with a group who already knows each other and his style of play than mess things up. Smartly, that hasn’t stopped him from calling in impact players like Johnson, but they aren’t a core part of his team. Whereas calling in an Adu or Feilhaber would change the dynamics.

      I have to imagine we see something new starting with November’s friendlies. Corona deserves a shot after riding the US bench for months too.

      And Adu still isn’t seeing consistent playing time. This season he has come off the bench more than he has started. I don’t blame that on Adu, but on the Union. With a better squad and a better finisher in front of him, Adu would start for a number of MLS teams. The Union just want work rate and he’s not that. He’s someone you build a team around and then give him the freedom to roam and make plays.

    • My response would be that part of the reason the US plays these insane DM formations is because none of the AMs including Torres, Adu, Kljestan, and others, has stepped up and seized the AM playmaker role. But we have plenty of DMs who’ll usually give you a good game. Not saying this is how we should play so much as having half a dozen international quality DMs and a bunch of half-cooked AMs might lead one tactically astray.

      All due respect but potential to me is more of a youth NT excuse. The whole thing is a consistent pattern of it not translating at the senior level. It’s true of the guys I listed, as someone said earlier, they play one game well enough to get your interest, and then they go back to driving you insane, they get dropped, they make their comeback, they get their foothold, repeat.

      If we were going to bring back an old US hand in the middle I’d say Benny. Benny has played in big games and produced. Then Clark (who is starting to play better for the Dynamo), DeMerit, maybe Pearce or Dunivant if the wingback situation requires. FWIW, Lichaj is not entirely a stranger and was good enough in the shirt that even bringing up club form or use is kinda goofy.

  18. I don’t understand why Jay Demerit is out of the equation. Seems to me he can still play, and CB is our weakest position at the moment.

    • +1. I’m not saying he’s our WC starter, but he could sure help us get there. I’m still so impressed every time I watch him play.

      • I like Demerit also. In my humble opinion, he is still better than Goodson and Parkhurst. He reads the game well and is physically very tough. He definitely has enough left to help in the qualifiers.

    • I don’t think keeping DeMerit in mind for depth is a bad idea because the position is a wasteland and he usually looked competent. I don’t remember him going away because of form so much as because of a cluster of events involving an eye injury, an extended layoff before joining Vancouver, and arguably the US coaching change.


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