For American striker Eddie Johnson, the journey has already come full circle. First, though, one detail remains.
A veteran of the 2006 World Cup and the 2007 Gold Cup title-winning team, Johnson was one of 24 players selected by Jurgen Klinsmann for the Americans' crucial upcoming CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers against Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala.
If he plays in either match, Johnson will make his first appearance for the national team in more than two years. An appearance would also put the finishing touch on a personal journey that has included impressive early success, extensive international travel and a contractual nightmare south of the border.
Let's back up.
Johnson, 28, has played 42 times for the United States men's national team. He's scored 12 international goals overall and eight in World Cup qualifying, a total that's fourth-best in team history.
In 2003, as a member of the U.S. Under-20 squad, he won the Golden Shoe award at the FIFA World Youth Championship. He made his European debut with Fulham of the English Premier League and appeared in both the 2006 FIFA World Cup and the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the latter of which the U.S. won.
But for all that gloss on his resume, less than a year ago, Johnson didn't have a team.
In December 2011, Johnson reportedly signed with Puebla, a club in the top flight of Mexican football (via Soccer By Ives). The signing was supposed to serve as the end of a difficult three-year stretch that saw Johnson play for four clubs—and score just seven goals—in three countries.
The problem was, the deal never became official and Johnson never played a match in the Mexican top tier. Johnson explained what turned into a complicated situation in an interview with the Seattle Times earlier this year:
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"The club said I didn't pass my physical; I never took a physical," said Johnson. "Then they said that I was unfit, but I trained in every training session and I did well, and the coach was happy with the way I trained.
"In the end, you live and you learn. It was a learning experience for me. Where I was in my career at the time, trying to get my career back on track, it didn't look good for me. But that's the truth in a nutshell. ... Those people out there that know the truth, know the truth."
Instead of playing in Mexico, Johnson eventually signed with the Seattle Sounders of Major League Soccer. With less than a month remaining in his debut season in the Pacific Northwest, Johnson is leading the Sounders with 14 goals, one more than Fredy Montero.
Johnson's impressive showings earned him a recall to the national team, and with regular striker Jozy Altidore dropped, Johnson could have a chance to make an immediate impact.
According to U.S. coach Klinsmann, such a breakthrough would be no more than Johnson deserves.
“Watch his games and you see his drive and hunger that he has, the way he chases defenders, the way he creates chances for himself and his striking partners and the way he also finishes things off,” Klinsmann said (via USSoccer.com).
Klinsmann added that Johnson's physicality—he stands 6'0"—could be useful against what will likely be two defensive-minded opponents. As for Johnson, he likened his situation to being a kid again.
That's appropriate, considering the success Johnson had early in his career.
“It doesn’t get any better," Johnson said (via USSoccer.com). "I’m like a kid in the candy store. This is what I have worked hard for, and this is only the beginning. I still have a lot of work to go.”
In other words, the journey might just be getting started.