Johnson aims for World Cup after long injury layoff
CARSON, Calif. -- Eddie Johnson can't wait to get into a game for the U.S. national soccer team. Besides testing himself after a long injury layoff, it's a chance to extend an impressive scoring streak.
Johnson has been working off his rust in the national team's training camp, where he's vying for a spot on the World Cup roster.
His progress started slowly after he missed large chunks of the MLS season last year with injuries.
He hurt the big toe on his right foot, which sidelined him more than two months. Then, he had a stress fracture in the same foot in September and missed the rest of FC Dallas' season.
"The toe is doing great and it's getting better every day," Johnson said recently. "I'm trying to push myself in these little mini games we've been having and the little competitions we've been having in training camp."
But, like the rest of his teammates, he's tired of facing the same guys in practice each day. Johnson wants to play in a real game, and he'll get his chance Sunday.
The U.S. men will be in San Diego to play Canada in the Americans' first match of the year.
Johnson wasn't sure how much playing time he would get in his first game since Sept. 7.
"I'm just happy to get out there," he said. "Hopefully, the defenders are tired when I get in and I get a goal and keep that streak going."
Before he got hurt last year, the 21-year-old forward scored eight goals in his first eight international appearances, including seven goals in World Cup qualifiers.
"Every time I get on the field, I got to score, I got to keep the streak going," he said, smiling.
Johnson "has got a lot to live up to now. He's got a goal a game average going for him and anything less is," teammate Landon Donovan said with a smile, his voice trailing off.
"He knows he can do other things that help us. He doesn't have to score, but when he gets on a streak and he's confident, he's one of the best I've seen."
The person Johnson most wants to impress is U.S. coach Bruce Arena, who will select about half the World Cup roster from players in the training camp. The other half is expected to come from Americans playing in Europe.
"He's done well. I had my concerns and I think he's a little ahead of schedule," Arena said. "From what we can see, his injury is behind him. It'll take a little time, but certainly over the next month or so, he should be coming into form."
Veteran Eddie Pope said Johnson is benefiting by being in camp, where the roster is loaded with talented players.
"That's great for him to be here, instead of being somewhere where he has to do it on his own," Pope said. "He's playing every day, doing a lot of fitness, so that when he does go back to his MLS club and when we continue to go with these games, he's in the best situation he can possibly be in."
Johnson realizes his performance against Canada, and in matches against Norway on Jan. 29 and Japan on Feb. 10, will go a long way toward making the World Cup roster.
"I know if I do well in those games, my chances of being in Germany this year are great," he said. "I just want to get out there and feel that pressure and the atmosphere at a high level like this. Once I get my form back, it's just a matter of time."
Despite his scoring streak, Johnson knows he isn't guaranteed anything beyond training camp.
"The reason why I have so much respect for this game is because it doesn't matter what type of player you are," he said. "Being out for a long time, you got to work your butt off to get back to where you were."
Arena pulled Johnson aside to reinforce that notion. "He told me to get in there and work and win a position," he said. "That's what everyone is trying to do."