The United States men's national team announced their 30-man provisional roster for the World Cup on Monday and Eddie Johnson was the most notable omission. He appeared in six of the United States' 10 hexagonal matches and in two more matches in an earlier stage of qualifying, scoring three goals, but changes in eligibility and form for other players have made him expendable.
Johnson was always facing an uphill battle to get into the squad once Aron Johannsson, then Julian Green became eligible to play for the United States. He needed to outplay Chris Wondolowski in the beginning of the MLS season to get a call into the 30-man squad, but he's done nothing of the sort. Through eight starts with D.C. United, Johnson has no goals. His play hasn't been encouraging. Wondolowski, meanwhile, leads the San Jose Earthquakes with five goals.
Obviously, Johnson's scoring drought isn't all his fault. Settling into a new team playing a different way isn't easy. But it's tough not to come to the conclusion that Johnson's attitude has something to do with his lack of form.
Johnson spoke to the media about his transition to D.C. last week, and he didn't come off as a good teammate at all when answering a question from Thomas Floyd. "I've been asked to play a different style of soccer than I've been playing the last two years in Seattle," said Johnson, which is completely inoffensive and true. "Obviously, I feel like here we're more of a pressing, hardworking team, and we can press the ball high up the field and win balls, be good in that area and break in our attacking half," he continued, with another understandable line. And then he dropped the bomb.
"Whereas in Seattle - and no disrespect to the guys that are here - I felt like I didn't have to run as much because we had better guys that had more quality on the ball. I feel like the styles are completely different."
No disrespect to the guys that are here ... but I feel the need to publicly disrespect the guys that are here. Ouch.
Klinsmann's mind was probably made up about Johnson well before these quotes came out, but they certainly didn't help Johnson's case. After all, he'd have to do even more running for the United States than he does for D.C. United, whether he played on the left wing or at center forward. They're going to be playing in the World Cup against a Portugal team with arguably the best player in the world, a Germany team with some of the sport's best young technicians and a Ghana team loaded with incredible athletes. If having to run more is an adjustment that takes Johnson completely out of form, he doesn't have a place on Klinsmann's national team.
Johnson is a speedster who scored some good goals in qualifying, sure, but anyone who thinks he was badly snubbed has to consider what he brings to the team that the players selected ahead of him don't. He doesn't have the ceiling of Green or Jozy Altidore and he's not nearly as reliable as Johannsson or Wondolowski. He's not as technical as Landon Donovan, Joe Corona or Graham Zusi. He's not going to defend like Fabian Johnson, Alejandro Bedoya or DaMarcus Beasley. He doesn't have the versatility of Brad Evans or or the ability to keep the ball and deliver quality set pieces that Brad Davis does.
He's an adequate USMNT starter, but he doesn't bring anything different to the table. There's nothing he does significantly better than any of the starters, and he doesn't have the same ability to change the game off the bench that players brought to camp ahead of him do. There's nothing wrong with Johnson -- assuming he'd have a better attitude about playing for the U.S. than he seems to have about playing for D.C. United -- but it's difficult to envision a scenario in which everyone thinks "this game would have been different if we just had a player like Eddie Johnson to bring off the bench".
And yet, despite all that, Johnson probably could have earned his way into the team. If he embraced D.C. United's style of play right away, ran around like a madman, scored a couple of goals and talked about how he thought he fit into Ben Olsen's gameplan, he might have found a way into the U.S. squad. Instead, he failed to deliver for two months. When you're a fringe player, you can't afford to do that.