The Seattle Sounders continue their dominant run through Major League Soccer, dispatching Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United one-nil.
Team Rave Green looked great despite short rest and missing starters. Former Sounder Eddie Johnson looked… not so great. It is somewhat painful to see Eddie have such an off year. Sure we was a cancer and a narcissist, and he is potentially to blame for the team imploding down the stretch, but, and maybe this seems insane, I’ll admit it: I love Eddie Johnson.
Eddie Johnson has swagger. He is the archetypal American athlete: supremely talented, hyper-confident, playing with anger and a chip-on-the-shoulder. Think Kobe Bryant or Larry Bird. Over the past two seasons, Eddie made MLS feel like a mainstream American sport. Whether or not this is a good thing is debatable. But it helped some fans access and relate despite the foreignness of the game.
Eddie brings to the league something that I, as an American sports fan, feel MLS severely lacks: the postmodern American athlete. There’s a showmanship, a confidence, that is inherently American and Eddie, at his best, personifies that. He has the meta-awareness of the spectacle, the showbiz of the sport that most postmodern athletes have and the throwbacks and muckers don’t. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan are both great, but they’re just soccer players. Like Butkus or Chamberlain before them, they don’t break the fourth wall. Jordan started it and T.O. ignited it. Hell even Mario Balotelli acts more American than American soccer players. MLS needs more Richard Shermans and DeSean Jacksons. As American sports fans, we speak that language. The flashy jock is a trope we can follow. We get it.
It was fun to watch Eddie dominate in Rave Green. In 2012, I watched a grainy feed of a US Open Cup game against the San Jose Earthquakes at Kezar Stadium. Helluva game. The Earthquakes were dominant that season, and we were defending our USOC Championship streak. The game was tense, but the feed was crappy and I was mighty confused by the fracas after the final whistle. Later I read that Eddie had thrown a punch at an Earthquake and my first reaction was HELL YEAH! Screw the Goonies and Lenhart and that cheap SJ crap. Eddie did what I, in an id-engulfed, soaked, primal rage, wanted to do. He punched fools, crowed about it and scored goals. Lots of goals.
Plus Eddie had a redemption narrative of the proud man humbled and pulling himself out of mediocrity. He was reinventing himself a la Roy Halladay or Drew Brees, so there was a lot in him and his story that was a relatable for American sports fans. Unfortunately, he jumped that narrative and became the stereotype, he became a T.O.
Eddie’s attitude was always a problem. Fredy didn’t like him. Hahnemann didn’t like him. In some bonus footage from Levy Films’s American Football Blu-Ray, Eddie, after a nil-nil draw against RSL, storms into the locker room complaining about not seeing any crosses, blaming the team for not feeding him and settling for the draw. This was tame, as his antics became more flamboyant and selfish and culminated in Columbus last year with the “pay me” celebration. That was vintage T.O. circa 2005, some straight-up team chemistry cancer. But he got we wanted, the man got paid.
Unfortunately, Eddie is a shadow of his former glory. He isn’t scoring goals or making headlines, but I always love Eddie Johnson because he played hard against the Timbers. He killed those Limberdicks and loooved doing it. Eddie always played big in big games. Do I think he played hard for the team? Hell no. He didn’t hustle for team, crest or city. He played for his ego and his stats, to quell the demons in his brain. He played for himself, for that mythic wound to his ego and identity that forever threatens to swallow the most talented and fragile athletes.