In his first international appearance in over two years, Eddie Johnson scored two crucial World Cup qualifying goals for the United States.
The Seattle Sounders forward notched both goals in a 2-1 win for the United States over Antigua and Barbuda on Friday. The win keeps the USA top of Group A in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying with only one game remaining.
"Yeah, you dream. You dream of playing for your country and playing in a World Cup qualifier," Johnson said. "A lot of people dream and don't make their dream a reality. I'm glad I was able to make it a reality tonight."
After a move to Fulham didn't pan out, Johnson bounced around Great Britain and Greece on loan. A move to Puebla fell through last year and Johnson spent considerable time away from the game. However, since joining Seattle in the MLS offseason he has scored 14 goals, tied for fifth in the league.
"He's had a tough time in Europe but he kept on working hard and shows that he has quality," Clint Dempsey said. "He's gotten goals in MLS and he got big goals for us tonight."
Johnson's inclusion in Jurgen Klinsmann's roster represented his first U.S. appearance in two-and-a-half years. The 28-year-old was desperate not to waste the chance at redemption.
"He was all excited the last couple of days," Klinsmann said. "We see a player that is extremely proud to be back in this group. We see a player that has matured a lot and knows now that he has a point to prove. He knows that at this age now not many opportunities [are] coming anymore."
Johnson's chance came in far from ideal circumstances. On the muddy cricket field of Sir Vivian Richards Stadium in Antigua, he lined up in an unfamiliar left wing position. EJ pointed out that he hasn't played on the flanks since a six-month stint with Preston North End in 2011.
"I haven't played it in a while. It's challenging. You just want to keep it simple, not try to over-complicate things and try to let the game come to you," he said. "At the end of the day it doesn't matter where you play on the field. If you're out on the field you want to play."
Johnson opened the scoring after 20 minutes. Graham Zusi picked up the pieces of a blocked corner corner and floated the ball diagonally over the Antigua backline, where Johnson's head met it at the far post.
In stoppage time a similar play saw Alan Gordon chip a ball to the back post, where Johnson cleaned up. EJ is now tied with Brian McBride with 10 goals in World Cup qualifying, second most in U.S. history.
"A lot of people interview me like I'm new to playing the national team," Johnson said. "I know the last two-and-a-half years have been difficult, but I think my record in World Cup qualifiers is pretty good. I know what it takes to play at this level."
The late winner stands as a moment of relief and redemption for a player who hasn't worn a U.S. jersey since 2010.
"Hard work pays off," Johnson asserted. "We knew it wasn't going to be pretty. We knew it was going to be difficult. But at the end of the day we grinded it out and got three points."
Alex Labidou contributed reporting from St. John's, Antigua
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