As long as he wasn't (well, isn't) scoring goals for D.C. United, this was bound to happen eventually. After training today, Eddie Johnson spoke with Pablo Maurer (of DCist and MLSSoccer.com) and Thomas Floyd of Goal.com about a couple different things, namely his role with D.C. United thus far and his prospects on Jurgen Klinsmann's United States side in this summer's World Cup. Predictably, the comments on the story (and, really, if you're anywhere but this site, where the commenters are brilliant and insightful and lovely, why would you ever read the comments?) voiced displeasure at EJ's sentiments.
But were those sentiments, exactly? He had this to say about United:
“It has been difficult,” Johnson told MLSsoccer.com after United’s training session. "I’ve been asked to play a different style of soccer than I’ve been playing the last two years in Seattle. Obviously, I feel like here we’re more of a pressing, hardworking team, and we can press the ball high up the field and win balls, be good in that area and break in our attacking half. Whereas in Seattle – and no disrespect to the guys that are here – I felt like I didn’t have to run as much because we had better guys that had more quality on the ball. I feel like the styles are completely different.”
I think that’s what’s been the challenging part. I think I spend a lot of time in the air here, flicking balls on, whereas in Seattle I’d get more balls into my feet and play more combinations off the other midfielders and strikers in the game. Here, we’ve been a bit more direct, which has been challenging, something I’ve been getting used to.
Some apparently view this as EJ throwing his teammates under the bus or being a locker room cancer or making excuses or any of the other criticisms that were tossed at EJ before he even arrived at RFK Stadium. But I don't see it. Everything he says here is accurate. The GAM really does have to do a lot more selfless running and has been used as a pressure valve and as an option early in passing moves rather than in the end of them. D.C. United really are a less flashy, less technical, less wide open side than the Sounders, who enjoy a much bigger payroll. Nothing EJ says here is wrong or controversial.
But that doesn't mean it's not objectionable, as obviously, some people have taken objection. Sure, EJ could have phrased things slightly differently (read: more boringly), but I'm not convinced he should have to. He didn't insult anybody or say "If my teammates didn't suck I'd have a million goals." He was asked a question and gave his honest response, which happens to also comport with reality. If we're insulted by it, I think that says something more about us than it does about Eddie.
There's something similar in the comments on Pablo's story about Johnson's chances to make the USA World Cup roster. (And again, once you leave the safe space of B&RU, be very wary about reading comment sections, as very little good comes out of them, but you already know that.) In that piece, EJ points out - again, correctly - that he's given a number of strong performances through qualifying and in last summer's Gold Cup. He also says that he believes that he's earned Klinsmann's confidence, even if he hasn't scored in MLS play this season. Some commenters apparently took this as some kind of mic drop or demand to be included on the team.
I still don't see it. EJ was huge in the Gold Cup and has been the proverbial good soldier in qualifying, playing his heart out in whatever role Klinsy cooked up for him. If he honestly thinks Jurgen has faith in his ability to perform, what's wrong with saying so?
It's completely fair to criticize a player for any number of things, including when he goes too far in his comments to the press. This, however, is not one of those times. This isn't "EJ being EJ" or creating a distraction for the team or anything else. He made factual statements and explained himself well. There is roughly a zero percent chance that any of this will be on anybody's mind in the locker room Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia. Which is exactly the way it should be.
Now, EJ, go put in a shift and score some goals.
Update: Steve Goff at the Washington Post now reports that Eddie Johnson has spoken with Ben Olsen and addressed his teammates to clarify and apologize for his comments. Both Olsen and Jeff Parke basically said "no harm done," but given the way some of Johnson's comments were interpreted, this looks like the standup thing to have done.
Clarification: The interview at issue was conducted by Pablo Maurer and Thomas Floyd. This story has been edited to clarify that both were involved.