The Seattle Sounders forward scored with his first touch after coming off the bench to help put away El Salvador in the Gold Cup quarterfinals.Seattle Sounders forward Eddie Johnson was one of four players called into the U.S. national team by manager Jurgen Klinsmann for the knockout stage of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, in the hopes of adding an extra dynamic attacking option for the elimination games by taking advantage of the rule change to this year's competition.
As it turns out, it took all of 14 seconds for Johnson to validate his recall and make the personnel move pay off.
Johnson scored with his first touch of the competition, as his 60th-minute header off a short corner gave the USA the breathing room it needed to put away El Salvador in Sunday's 5-1 quarterfinal victory and bring the Americans within a win of reaching the final. After starting forward Chris Wondolowski had stretched and tested the Salvadoran back line for the first hour of the match, Johnson - sporting his unmistakeable bleach-dyed hairdo - was called upon to finish the job.
"If I was a defender I wouldn't want him coming into the game at that point," said Landon Donovan, who served the ball in for Johnson to levitate and connect. "They defended and worked very hard. Wondo put them under constant pressure for 55-60 minutes, and all these games guys who have come in in the second half have had a lot of space, a lot of room to maneuver because of the guys who have put in the work early and worn teams down, and that was the case again today."
In Johnson's case, the returns on his substitution were immediate, and they came at a time when the result was still in the balance. Despite the USA having the better of the run of play, El Salvador nicked a goal back on a Rodolfo Zelaya penalty and came out on the front foot to begin the second half, trailing just 2-1 until Johnson made his contribution.
"The one thing I like about our team, we showed a lot of character," Johnson said. "We never showed any signs of panic. We made some good subs, and everyone came in and played an important role tonight."
Johnson especially. His aerial exploits have been a large part of his resurgence for both club and country, and they were full on display Sunday on both his goal and assist.
"It was just a good ball," Johnson said. "I tried to get into the seams. The coach brought me in, me and Alan Gordon, because of our presence in the air, and Donovan serves a good ball into the box. I was very fortunate to get onto the end of it.
"It's an easy way to come into a game as far as settling down as a player in a big game."
Johnson was able to return the favor for Donovan as well, again rising in the air to make a big play. In his instance in the 78th minute, Johnson jumped to meet a 50-50 ball, flicking it into Donovan's path for a breakaway that gave the USA a 4-1 lead and removed any shred of remaining doubt.
Even though Wondolowski has emerged as Klinsmann's go-to forward in this competition after his five-goal showing in the group stage, having Johnson in the back pocket as an alternative -- someone who has proven he can lead the line up top or play out wide -- has made the USA more multi-faceted with potentially two more games remaining in the competition.
"We have, obviously depending how the game goes, we have already a couple of things in mind. If the game goes well we want to bring on a new guy to give him minutes and an opportunity, but Eddie was planning to come in at a certain point because we want to get him connected to this group as quickly as possible," Klinsmann said. "I think Wondo deserved absolutely to start the game based on what he did in the last couple of games and it worked out really well."