You heard it here first and don’t forget it—Eddie Johnson is back baby!
In the past two years, the athletic forward from Florida and former MLS poster boy has endured a professional roller coaster ride from national team standout to afterthought, where he was last seen sputtering on the bench at Cardiff City on loan from Fulham.
Johnson was once projected as the next great American scoring threat, whose speed and physicality would finally make him the guy America could count on to put the ball in the back of the net on the big stage. But in a mid-season transfer to the west-London club towards the end of the 2007/2008 season, Johnson squandered several scoring chances in crucial matches in the midst of a bitter relegation battle—one the Cottagers eventually secured in the final week of the season on goal differential after three consecutive victories.
But not thanks to Johnson, who missed a prime opportunity to secure his reputation not only with Roy Hodgson, but the Fulham faithful.
This past season Johnson found himself on a yearlong loan to Cardiff City and we forgot about him. Poof! He’s gone. Well, most of us forgot about him. I guess everyone just assumed he couldn’t cut it, didn’t have the skill to play at the highest level.
Apparently, a loan to a Championship club, where Johnson could settle into the English game, was exactly what he needed. Still young, at 25, Johnson needed to develop his skill on the ball—checking to, controlling it, how to use his body, keeping his head up and making the right pass, and most importantly, finishing. And he got the opportunity, starting roughly half of Cardiff's league games, scoring a handful of times.
Loans are not uncommon in the European game; it often makes more sense to loan a young or developing player to a smaller club for a period, where he will get game experience at a competitive level without taking up a roster spot. You effectively let someone else train and teach your player in an environment more learning friendly than your own.
Other young American standouts that have recently signed contracts with European clubs, namely Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu, have struggled to find their footing, let alone playing time, on the other end of the pond—something Johnson seems to have capitalized on.
Now as Fulham completes their Australian pre-season tour, Johnson has put the finishing touches on a successful comeback to the team that signed him, scoring against the Melbourne Victory and assisting twice on Erick Nevland goals against the Perth Glory. The maturity he has accumulated these past two years have made him a serious contender for playing time this season, as Fulham enter the inaugural season of the Europa League without striker Bobby Zamora, who is all but out the door and on his way to Hull City, of all places.
It seems that for at least one American, the humbling loan experience will pay off. Don’t be surprised by a breakout season from our boy Eddie.
And just in time for next summer.