SEATTLE – Eddie Johnson threw the first pitch at the Mariners-Yankees game at Safeco Field on Sunday afternoon and then stepped across the street for soccer training at CenturyLink Field.
The Seattle Sounders FC striker knows these haunts well, except this is a different context. The U.S. national team is back in Seattle.
The USA will host Panama in World Cup qualifying on Tuesday with Sounders players Johnson and Brad Evans on the roster. The pair have eyed this fixture since its announcement.
“I put it in one of my to-do lists,” Johnson said. “I knew it wasn't going to be easy. We've got a very talented squad, some of the players in this national team pool. We know it takes performing with your club and we started the year off not so good.”
The Sounders began the MLS season winless in five. EJ scored one goal in that spell. However, the club turned its form around and has won six of its last seven.
“We started to find ourself as a team,” Johnson, who scored three goals in his last five MLS matches, said.
The 29-year-old is finding himself as a U.S. international once more after several years of wandering in Europe in the English lower leagues and Greece. The Sounders have helped necessitate a career that looked dried up by his mid-20s.
Johnson's best performances for the United States came over half a decade ago. He scored a hat trick against Panama in 2004, days after his international debut.
Facing Panama again, does that memory feel faded?
“To you guys it might seem a long time, but to me I still feel young,” Johnson said. “That was an unbelievable moment and experience, something I'll cherish for the rest of my career.”
Teammate Evans earned his career memory on Friday in Jamaica, when he scored a stoppage-time winner to keep the United States on track to qualify for the 2014 World Cup. Now he is nearly assured of a starting spot in front of his home crowd. Evans previously played for the USA in the 2009 Gold Cup, a 4-0 win over Grenada.
“It will always be something I remember,” Evans said. “My first cap was here with the Gold Cup and I will always remember that one and this one – playing in the World Cup qualifier, as well.”
U.S. Soccer has sold roughly 35,000 tickets and expects a crowd of about 40,000 for the match. The Sounders and Cascadia rivals the Vancouver Whitecaps drew over 53,000 on Saturday night, but Evans shrugged aside criticism of the disparity.
“I think of it as anywhere in the world your club team is going to get more than the national team in some situations,” Evans said on Saturday. “But we are so lucky—if we were getting 15,000 every game and now we are getting 34,000 for a national game we would be seeing it in a different tune, but the fact we get 55,000 tonight and ‘only’ getting 35,000 at a game on Tuesday night, I think we’re doing okay.”
Besides, according to Evans, here was the reaction of Joe Corona and Terrence Boyd upon asking about a traditional Sounders crowd: “‘Oh crap, that's pretty incredible.’ So they understand and it's pretty cool to be able to showcase our fans.”
The United States has a five-game winning streak in Seattle, and is unbeaten when playing in the home of the Sounders.
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