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Eddie Johnson

Eddie Johnson, Not Landon Donovan, Is Who Klinsmann Misses Most Right Now

[Scene: September 2018. Living room of Jurgen Klinsman, with the coach and a New York Times reporter present]

The United States men’s national team coach sits back in his chair and looks longingly out the window. The reporter begins this interview in the wake of the end of another interesting World Cup, this time in Russia.

“Coach,” he begins, “you just finished your second tour as the U.S. national team head coach. Looking back on these past seven years, what is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?”

Expecting the coach to talk about how far the U.S. program has come or needs to go, the reporter begins to write but stops suddenly when Klinsmann answers, “I will always regret not bringing him to Brazil with me.”

“You mean Fox Sports analyst Landon Donovan?”

“No, but that’s what people thought at the time. When Jozy Altidore pulled up in the Ghana match, I knew we were in trouble. There was no way he was going to play the rest of the tournament, and I knew that I had made a tactical mistake by not bringing a forward who has the skillset I needed to maintain the tactics I had drilled into that team.”

“No, with Jozy out, I had to wedge this team into a 4-2-3-1 system that was tight in the midfield and rely on Clint Dempsey as my only forward supported by the inexperienced Mix Diskerud. Or I had to bring in Aron Johansson (which prepared him for the Russia World Cup) or Chris Wondolowski, both of whom were scorers that had vastly different skills than I needed. I should have brought a forward that could have played up top my formation and held up the ball, or swapped with Clint at times and made runs out wide. Instead I brought guys I thought I would only need in the late stages of games.”

“I should have brought Eddie Johnson with the U.S. national team to Brazil.”

“If I would have done that, I would have been able to move players around the midfield to address the deficiencies I saw in that Ghana game, in particular moving Michael Bradley farther forward. However, with Diskerud as my playmaker, Bradley had to move back and was woefully unable to control play like he should have. We couldn’t beat a battered and injured Portugal team and we were pounded by the German machine.”

“But if EJ were in camp with the team, we would have lost Jozy’s incredible talent but I still could have kept my formation and tactics. EJ also had the experience to handle a World Cup match unlike my other forwards and has experience playing well in big games.”

“People kept saying that I should have brought Landon, but tactically that would not have helped me. That would have left me even more deficient defensively, and our midfield would have been shredded on the wings. No, EJ was the guy I needed to place Clint, Michael, and Jermaine Jones on the field in the positions where they would have succeeded.”

Klinsmann pauses, and sits back in his chair.

“The end result may not have been different; finishing second in Group G was always a tough draw in the round of 16. But we had such an opportunity, with Portugal hobbled and Belgium so talented but inexperienced in 2014. If we had the right players in place, we could have shocked people by beating Portugal, maybe drawing Germany, and surprising some inexperienced teams in the knock out rounds. Who knows where it would have ended?”

The American coach again just stares out the window, with a look on his face full of wonder of what might have been.

This fictional account is a little silly, but highlights a major deficiency in Klinsmann’s roster. If he would have brought Eddie Johnson or a similarly skilled forward, the United States coach could build his strategy using similar tactics that the U.S. used in the first match and in the friendlies leading up to the World Cup. Instead, as Kartik Krishnaiyer points out, the Yanks are now facing a scenario where they will have to possible alter their possession system or rely on inexperienced players to keep that system working. This is a serious concern for the U.S. and a potential match-up problem for them against their next two opponents.

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  1. Eddie

    June 19, 2014 at 6:52 am

    Sorry, but I couldn’t disagree more. EJ is not good enough. He never has been, and he wouldn’t have helped the US out here.

    If Klinsmann brought only Jozy as a big target man to hold up the ball and feed the players attacking around him, then he must have a plan B that doesn’t rely on that kind of forward.

    I’m much happier having Johansson and Wondo there than EJ. Johansson struggled against Ghana but he has much better touch and skill. Wondo, for his apparent lack of skill, knows how to find the net and will work 10 times harder than EJ.

    • Shane

      June 19, 2014 at 11:51 am

      Couldn’t disagree more. EJ has a combo of strength, skill, speed and experience that only a couple of players on this team has. I was stunned when he did not make the 32 and WC Team overall.
      EJ had a very good showing at the Gold Cup.

      • Remy

        June 19, 2014 at 1:36 pm

        EJ is not good enough to play in the World Cup for the US. Terrence Boyd is a more athletic and has better technical skills. In addition to that, EJ alienates his teammates and the clubs he plays for.

      • R.O

        June 19, 2014 at 3:05 pm

        Shane writes: “. EJ has a combo of strength, skill, speed…”

        Skill? Are you kidding me, he doesn’t have WC skill and barely MLS skill. No touch, can’t control the ball on the dribble and poor passer.

        Yes he has speed and can get to long passes but what good does speed do if once you catch up to the ball you can’t/don’t control it? NONE.

    • JamieU

      June 19, 2014 at 1:43 pm

      @ Eddie and Remy.

      I disagree. Boyd and or Johnson needed to go to Brazil. Mainly because they offer a reasonable facsimile of what Altidore does. Thus swapping either in in place of Altidore (fatigue or injury) is easier for everyone.

      The player that clearly shouldn’t be here is Wondo. He doesn’t offer the facsimile OR a uniquely different skillset to offer something different. He’s a pure CONCACAF striker, a slight step up from Connor Casey in 2010 (who sucked) who was loved by Bradley for some reason.

      • Clampdown

        June 19, 2014 at 1:51 pm

        Jamie, I was not initially a fan of Wondo, but I have to say the guy has won me over. He has that odd quality of always being around the ball and finding space. He doesn’t always score with his chances, but he almost always puts it on frame. I don’t advocate for starting him, but I do think he’s a great sub who works his socks off.

        I just don’t rate EJ. There is a reason he flames out everywhere he goes, yet his enormous ego remains intact.

        Sure, Boyd would be an option. But you have to wonder, with Klinsmann’s preference for European players why didn’t Boyd get the call? He must not think he’s good enough. Or maybe he’s lazy in training. I don’t know.

        If he does go with Dempsey up top on Sunday I would like to see Mix given a shot playing behind him with Bradley and Beckerman holding, and Jones out left. (I can’t beleive I just advocated for Beckerman playing … but I think he’s fine when matched with both Bradley and Jones).

  2. R.O

    June 19, 2014 at 2:02 am

    “I should have brought Eddie Johnson with the U.S. national team to Brazil.”
    Oh please. EJ can’t dribble, has not ball control and is not a starter. Maybe off the bench in the 85 min but other than that, EJ is not WC quality.

    Wasn’t in 2010 and isn’t in 2014.

    What a fantasy. Terrance Boyd is far better than EJ.

  3. jor

    June 19, 2014 at 1:57 am

    Or Boyd as a target.

  4. Grayson

    June 19, 2014 at 12:34 am

    Maybe this 2018 story is hokey, but I agree with this 100%. I can understand EJ was not in good form, was making Johnny Manziel cocky “pay me” hand gestures all the time. But he produced for the national team, had the skill set most similar to Jozy, and could actually play out wide was well. Was disappointed that EJ didn’t even make the 30. I was more mad about that than Donovan not making it.

    Regardless, MLS form shouldn’t be taken into account whatsoever, especially not in May. EJ should’ve been in the squad.

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