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Originally published February 20, 2012 at 6:42 PM | Page modified February 21, 2012 at 6:49 PM

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Sounders banking on career revival in trade for Eddie Johnson

After four difficult years in soccer, new Sounder Eddie Johnson is motivated to succeed and could be the perfect forward partner for Fredy Montero.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Good article. Johnson is a definite upgrade at striker if he stays healthy. I can't wa... MORE
If he can score 10-12 goals this year, I'll be happy. MORE
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The past four years haven't been kind to Eddie Johnson, Sounders FC's newest addition.

If the forward's career was peaking at the start of 2008, with a high-profile transfer to Fulham of the English Premier League, it has been on the decline ever since — perhaps until now.

Johnson never broke into the team at Fulham. He was subsequently loaned out to three teams in four years, where loneliness accompanied disappointment as he was often apart from his wife and daughter. When his contract with the English club expired last summer, Johnson came close to stability with a move to MLS, but pulled out due to lingering hopes of making it on the international scene.

Rock bottom might've hit last month, when a move to Mexico's Puebla fell through after Johnson had already signed a contract. He said the deal failed on account of philosophical differences among Puebla's technical staff, but the Mexican team's officials told reporters the signing broke down because Johnson failed fitness tests.

Johnson, 27, denies claims that he wasn't in shape and said he never even took a physical, but the damage to his reputation had been done. He wanted to clear the air then, but thought the words would ring hollow as long as he was out of work.

"Where I was in my career at the time, trying to get my career back on track, it didn't look good for me," said Johnson, who hasn't played a professional game since last April and hasn't scored since 2010.

Last week, Johnson signed with MLS, but had to do so at a much cheaper rate after backing out months earlier. Despite significant national team experience, his reported $100,000 salary means he might not be one of the top 10 highest-paid Sounders this season (although salary information for 2012 hasn't been made public yet by the players' union).

A career revival will have to begin modestly, it seems.

Seattle officials always admired Johnson's abilities. When it appeared the forward would sign with the league last August, the Sounders had discussions about what they would have to do to acquire him.

When the opportunity arose again last week — particularly at a lower salary that the cap-constrained Sounders could manage — they aggressively pursued Johnson and traded the promising Mike Fucito and Lamar Neagle to Montreal in exchange for the forward.

"Our focus and what's important for us right now is how Eddie does right now — how he performs with our team, how he fits in with our team," said coach Sigi Schmid. "I think he's highly motivated. I think he still has a lot of ambitions and goals in front of him, and he's still young so he can still attain all of those."

Johnson said his return to MLS, where his professional career began, was a move of the mind and the heart.

"I missed the league," he said, having continued to follow MLS from afar. "I didn't come back for the money — I know a lot of people were saying that — I just came back because I wanted to get my career back going."

The Sounders have high hopes, particularly as Johnson addresses a need at the forward position. O'Brian White still faces an uncertain recovery from blood-clot issues in his left leg, and Sammy Ochoa has underwhelmed in preseason thus far.

Having played in the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Johnson could in fact be the best forward partner for Fredy Montero in the franchise's history. The native of Daytona Beach, Fla., has a dynamic combination of size, speed, athleticism and finishing ability that can add to an already diverse Seattle attack. Since the move, many around the league are touting the Sounders as strong MLS Cup contenders.

Johnson showed glimpses of that elite potential with a stunning goal in Sunday's training game. It's not out of his reach to contend for the MLS scoring title and work his way back into consideration for the national team, for which he has 12 goals in 41 appearances.

"For us to have the opportunity to get him at this time and his age ... is huge for the club," said technical director Chris Henderson, who played a big role in bringing Johnson to the Sounders.

And if there's any place that can nurture his career revival, Johnson believes it's in Seattle.

"I couldn't be in a better environment," he said.

Joshua Mayers: 206-464-3184 or jmayers@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @joshuamayers.

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