Thursday, January 22, 2009
Johnson still waiting for first goal in England
Times are good at Cardiff City.
Eddie Johnson has struggled to adjust to the pace of the English game. (Barry Coombs/Empics)
Once saddled by massive debts, the club will move into a new stadium next season, replacing outdated Ninian Park. On the field, the Bluebirds solidified their spot in England's second-tier championship and are favored to reach the playoffs come May. Indeed, Cardiff is unbeaten in its past 10 games, averaging almost two goals per game during the streak. Fans now get the chance to enjoy a few passionate Welsh derbies, given Swansea's recent promotion from League One, and on Sunday, the reigning F.A. Cup finalists host vulnerable Arsenal in a widely anticipated fourth-round clash in England's beloved cup competition.
If only striker Eddie Johnson could get in on the fun.
Johnson, signed from Major League Soccer by Fulham with much fanfare at about this time last year, still is waiting for his first goal in Blighty. The 24-year-old international was shipped to Cardiff City on loan in the offseason after Cottagers boss Roy Hodgson candidly told him he had no immediate future in West London, thanks to the arrivals of Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora.
"The season hasn't gone the way everyone expected it to, and it hasn't gone the way I expected it to,'' Johnson said. "But I came to another very good team with good players. The guys I've been competing with have been scoring goals, and when I got my opportunity, I didn't put the ball in the net to keep my shirt.''
Johnson has started only three games, entering as a substitute in 13 others. Unfortunately for him, bargain buy Ross McCormack can't stop scoring, having already found the target 15 times; McCormack and former Arsenal trainee Jay Bothroyd are manager Dave Jones' preferred pairing up front. Cardiff also has been linked with Rangers goal machine Kris Boyd this transfer window as Jones seeks cover for Michael Chopra, recalled by parent club Sunderland following a successful two-month loan.
The locals, more than a few times, haven't been impressed with Johnson. When Bothroyd and McCormack sustained injuries against the high-flying Wolves in November, prompting Johnson's arrival from the subs bench, Wales on Sunday proclaimed: "Eddie Johnson doesn't look the answer. Whether he is lacking confidence or just can't settle in Cardiff, he doesn't look the part yet.''In mid-December, Johnson endured embarrassment when he came on as a sub at Ipswich, only to be replaced. The decision was understandable, since he took over for an injured Chopra and departed late -- for a midfielder -- with Cardiff nursing a 2-1 lead, yet such occurrences are uncommon. Jones, who publicly has supported Johnson throughout the season, admitted the Floridian was "gutted.''
Johnson says he simply needs more time to settle, and is quick to cite good friend and current Cottager Clint Dempsey. Dempsey saw little action in his first four months in England in 2007 -- although he did score the goal that kept Fulham up -- then turned out to be the team's leading Premier League scorer last season. Dropped in favor of Hungarian international Zoltan Gera early this campaign, the marauding Texan wrestled his midfield spot back and is one of the reasons Fulham sits a snug ninth.
Johnson draws on the positives, and there have been some. He earned a standing ovation for his performance in Cardiff's 2-1 win over Crystal Palace on Nov. 15, when he was hauled down for a penalty. The odd American flag can be seen in the crowd during matches.
Besides Jones, Johnson's teammates have been supportive, he adds. Devoid of confidence for much of his stint in England, that's not a problem now.
"The boys tell me in training, some of the defenders, that I have it in me and to just do the things I do in training in the game, and then I'll be fine,'' Johnson said. "I know I can score goals. I think over here that extra touch or that moment you start to think is a moment too long. In the MLS, you can take that extra touch and probably get a goal, but here the defenders are a lot stronger and you're playing around better players.''
International teammate Jonathan Spector, a jack-of-all-trades at West Ham, backed Johnson to succeed. He got a head start in his English career, initially joining Manchester United five years ago.
"He's got size, strength and a lot of speed,'' said Spector, 22. "That's certainly all the attributes you would look for in a player initially. I don't think he's finished developing as a player, but at the same time, I do think he's got quite a bit of ability. I think once he gets his first goal, things will open up for him, and he'll probably start scoring a few more.''
Johnson feels precisely the same way.
What about opening his account against the Gunners on Sunday?
"I'll probably start crying, because to look back and see where I came from, where I grew up, to where I am now, I never thought I'd be here in a million years,'' said Johnson, who was raised by a single mom with a modest background. "That first goal for me is going to be special, and when I score it, everyone's going to know it. It'll mean a lot to me.'' Ravi Ubha is a London-based freelance journalist covering Americans abroad for ESPNsoccernet. He also covers tennis for ESPN.com.