After Eddie Johnson’s recent…conversations with fans on Twitter about his lack of effort, passion, or interest in playing, this issue seems to have intensified among the DC United community, and some of the national media. That Eddie Johnson would at some point lash out at the team or fans was not a surprise, and is in fact probably the only way a cash bereft team like DC could have even gotten him in the first place. However, EJ has burned through his benefit of the doubt this season in a number of ways.
The Case Against:
- He isn’t scoring in any meaningful quantity. That’s his job.
- He shows an almost comically low level of effort and hustle while on the field. Some players tend to just look as if they are loafing, but are able to lull defenders to sleep and show bursts of speed. Johnson’s problem is that his lack of effort manifests itself in complete capitulation. EJ will make a run past a defender and not immediately get the ball, and the next 25 seconds are filled with grimaces, arms being thrown in the air, and a snail’s pace to get back onside. If I could edit a super cut of times where balls intercepted in the midfield had to be held up to wait for him to get onside, or catch him offside, it would be a long and frustrating video. With 1 red card suspension, and another one pending, he also shows a lack of self control when his frustration boils over and turns it away from his teammates to his opponents.
- You can’t engage with fans like he did this past weekend. Fans get silly and hyperbolic, and say cruel and disgusting things on Twitter. It’s the worst part of the internet. As a high profile person, you have NOTHING to gain by sparring with fans on social media. From actively telling fans to stop watching/coming to games, to retweeting requests for him to come back to Seattle, or be sold elsewhere, this was a masterclass in how not to use social media. At least he didn’t use any racial epithets.
- He is a designated player. For a team that is essentially the equivalent of a college kid subsisting solely on Ramen until Dad puts a few dollars on his meal card, any actual outlay of cash needs to bring positive outcomes. And if that player is not scoring goals, he certainly can’t be a distraction or in any way an impediment to success.
The Case For
- He is in a situation where his talents are not being utilized to their fullest potential. EJ did agree to a new contract, and did say the right things about being traded to DC United, but he was also in somewhat complicated position. Even if he knew that United did not have the talent on the wings or creatively in midfield to take advantage of his style of play, he had a team willing to pay him the way he wanted to be paid. I imagine that if you told him that he could go back in time and find a way to work things out amicably with Seattle, and continue to get the service he was getting last year, he would do it in a heartbeat. Has he squandered chances when he has gotten them this year? He has, but when you’re starved for service and a ball happens to finally come your way, you’re not always in the right mental mode to be able to confidently finish. As we know, being a striker has a lot to do with being confident and happy, and EJ has been neither of those things.
- His hold up play is very good. No one else on this team can make a positive play out of a long ball launched from Hamid or the defenders, and when a team doesn’t have multiple players that can break down defenses on the dribble, that knock down play needs to be part of a team’s arsenal. Early in the season, Espindola benefited from EJ’s back to goal play, and for him to continue to succeed in the second half of the season and beyond, it can be argued that EJ will be needed.
- As he has said numerous times, Eddie Johnson is an emotional player. Many players use frustration, perceived slights, and past rejections as fuel to succeed on the field. There is nothing wrong with that, and the fact that none of his teammates have reacted to his on field behavior indicates that his teammates may understand that part of his mentality. Today, EJ told Pablo Mauer that his upbringing has a lot to do with how he handles conflict off the field, but I imagine it also has an effect on field as well. I read a story on Grantland yesterday about Josh Howard that had a similar message about how a rough childhood can result in turning “adversity into aggression”.
I don’t know what the answer is to this increasingly unavoidable issue. A fan’s relationship to a player that seems to feed on emotions (#positivevibes) probably needs to be in a better place for that player to succeed on the field. Fans seem to have made up their minds about EJ, which after a year filled with few goals, little effort, and some unwise comments is understandable. But, Eddie Johnson isn’t going anywhere. He will be with United this year and the next. His performance is nowhere good enough for him to get the European move he wants, and no other team is so financially strapped that they would take on a knowingly “flawed” player who is out of form with no confidence. I think that even a slight increase in effort on the field, and an attempt to not berate his teammates on the field would buy Johnson a little time to get his confidence back and start scoring again. The player and fans should learn to co-exist because neither one is 100% right or wrong, and a confident EJ scoring goals will give the fans what they’re looking for. Even if he just walks around in between goals.