Interview by Josh Staph
Next month, the U.S. National Soccer Team takes off for Germany to measure its skills against the rest of the world’s in the 2006 World Cup. In the team’s arsenal of weapons is forward Eddie Johnson.
Using his lightning speed to beat defenders and deposit the ball in the net makes Eddie happy. And since he scored five times in the team’s three World Cup qualifiers, dude must be pretty happy—happy in record-breaking ways. In the last 25 minutes against Panama, Eddie scored three times. It was the first time in U.S. soccer history that a substitute took the field and left sporting a hat trick.
EJ tells us how he plans to bring his game to Germany, and why he’s got to watch his back in foreign lands.
STACK: Describe your mental approach toward training and preparation.
EJ: When we’re at National Camp, or when I’m here in Kansas City, it’s all about me getting better every day. I try to grow from practice and performance. Each day, I try to learn or do something new, because that’s what the greatest players in the world do. It all starts with training, and what you put into it dictates how you perform.
STACK: Do you have a consistent routine during camp?
EJ: If it’s a double session, I make sure to eat a good breakfast in the morning. What you eat at the beginning of the day determines how much energy you’ll have and how well you’ll be able to run around later. As I head into training, I throw on my iPod and listen to songs I know will motivate me.
STACK: Who’s on your iPod right now?
EJ: All kinds of rap and hip-hop—especially Young Jeezy, Jay-Z and NAS. All their music is similar, because they talk about making money and being successful. In my profession, the more hard work I put into preparation, the better player I’ll be on the field. So I always focus on getting better—making sure I ask myself what I need to work on that particular day. I know how to get where I want to be, and once I’m there, the money and success will come. I like how these rappers talk about their lives—how they grew up and what drove them to get to where they are.
STACK: Have you been working on anything specific as you prepare for the Cup?
EJ: When I first started playing with the National Team in 2004, I was playing at a very high level. Then I got an injury that really set me back, and I’ve had to battle to get back to the level where I was scoring all those goals. I’ve put a lot of pressure on myself. That’s what happened at camp with the National Team in January—I put pressure on myself. Everybody wants to be perfect, but that pressure doesn’t help. As I got over the injury and started playing, everything started coming back slowly.
I’ve really been focusing on getting ready to go for 90 minutes of play. You can be a good player, but if you can’t run the full 90 minutes, then you aren’t effective. I’ve also been working on my form and getting my touch back. All these things factor into me being more consistent and being in a position on the field to help the team. Right now, I’m only a small step away from getting back to where I was.
STACK: What is your best weapon on the field?
EJ: Speed—I love making it hard on the backs. I use my speed to get behind defenders or to run at players. Being a hassle to defenders for 90 minutes and being deadly in the box are what I do best.
STACK: Have you always had wicked speed, or did you develop it?
EJ: The speed has always been there, but knowing how to use it makes the difference. It’s not just about being faster than the player marking you; it’s getting your body in the right positions. You have to know when and where to turn it on.
STACK: Did you always want to be a professionalsoccer player?
EJ: Once I started doing the Olympic Development Program in my early teens and made the U-15 National Team, I got to travel to all these different countries and experience so many cultures. Seeing how people live overseas and how much passion they have for the sport inspired me to work hard and go after it.
STACK: What’s it like to represent the U.S. in foreign lands?
EJ: Soccer is the number-one sport over there—they eat, breath and sleep soccer. We watch more soccer when we’re away than we do any other time. Every channel has soccer on all day long.
The fans’ passion, the size of the stadiums and the noise of the crowds are amazing. I remember my first national match. I wasn’t starting, but Coach Arena told me I would be playing a lot in the second half, so I warmed up with the first team. We were in Guatemala, and one of the fans threw this big piss bag, and it hit Mooch, our assistant coach, right in the back. I was like, man, these people really love this game and their country. They will do whatever they have to do to take the opposing team’s focus away.
It’s funny though. When you get there the day before the match, people from the country you’re playing are so nice to you. They have their happy faces on. But once the game begins, something happens to them and they aren’t nice anymore. [laughs]
STACK: Do you feel a responsibility to build that kind of support and passion in the States?
EJ: It’s going to take us and the next generation of players to do amazing things—things like the guys are doing in Europe. It’s going to take exciting players like Ronaldo to get it going. That’s what the American people want to see. We have guys like Freddy Adu who fill stadiums, but we need more players like that. That said, we also need to perform well in the World Cup to create that spark.
STACK: What are some personal and team goals heading into the Cup?
EJ: I don’t just want to make the roster, I want to be a starter. Then it’s scoring goals and enjoying winning some World Cup matches at a young age. I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get those results.
Food: Chicken Fettuccini
Video Game: Tiger Woods ’06 on PSP
Sports Hero: MJ
Actor: Jamie Foxx
Actress: Eva Mendes
Other Career: I picked up golf and got pretty good at that. So I’d be a golfer.