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Originally published August 21, 2013 at 9:31 PM | Page modified August 22, 2013 at 9:36 PM

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Eddie Johnson rises to the occasion in rivalry games

Sounders FC’s Eddie Johnson has thrived in a heated rivalry against Portland with three goals in four games, the most in the series of any active player

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sunday

Timbers @ Sounders, 7 p.m., ESPN2

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TUKWILA — Motivation comes in different forms. For Eddie Johnson, it peaks in rivalry games.

The Sounders FC forward feeds off the animosity and the venom from opposing fans, regardless if it’s a small group at home or a full stadium on the road. He thrives when doubted, when pushed, when in hostile environments.

The production shows.

Johnson has three goals in four heated games against the Portland Timbers since signing with Seattle, most in the head-to-head rivalry among active players. When you include Vancouver, his total increases to five goals and an assist in eight games.

“Pretty much my whole career I’ve always fed off adversity,” Johnson said. “Growing up and not having a lot, for me I’ve always been a fighter. ... That’s one of my things. When I get the non-Eddie Johnson fans, or playing away and the fans are screaming and trying to get in your head, the only way to quiet and silence them is to score a goal.”

Sounds serious, but the Cascadia Cup is also when Johnson has the most fun.

Sold-out crowds, national-television audiences and passion from Pacific Northwest fan bases are perhaps the best example of how MLS is slowly catching up to the elite leagues around the world.

And while athletes often live by a “one game at a time” mantra, Johnson isn’t ashamed to admit he looks for Portland games when the schedule is released.

“Home and away, we know both environments are hostile and electric and atmospheres that any professional soccer player would dream in playing in front of,” said Johnson, who has played in England and Greece.

Overall, the year has been somewhat uneven for Johnson, who has been in and out of Seattle for duty with the U.S. national team. He has three goals in his last four international games — including one in last week’s 4-3 win in Bosnia — but just one goal in his last seven MLS games.

Extensive travel has likely played a role in that inconsistency, and Johnson remains a vital piece in a talent-laden attack that has seen multimillion-dollar additions this year in Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins.

Dempsey, for one, is eager to develop a partnership with a longtime friend from years spent with the USMNT and Fulham of the English Premier League.

“It takes pressure off you as a team because players have to worry about (Johnson’s) speed and the way he is in front of the goal,” Dempsey said. “The more quality players you have on the field, the easier it makes it for everybody else, so it’s good to have him back in the lineup.”

Gavin signs

Sounders FC signed midfielder Blair Gavin on Wednesday. The 24-year-old has been training with the team for about a month and played in two MLS Reserve League games.

Gavin has played 45 league games with Chivas USA, which drafted him No. 10 overall in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, and New England.

Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed per league and team policy. Gavin is the third Akron product on the Sounders, joining Steve Zakuani and DeAndre Yedlin.

Note

• Martins returned to practice Wednesday but is still recovering from an ankle sprain. Osvaldo Alonso and Djimi Traore have been limited in training, but all three are expected to be available Sunday.

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