Bam. About 40 minutes into USA’s World Cup match with Portugal on Sunday — and we have a Palm Coast reference.
“Jozy Altidore’s the only player on the roster without a replacement,” ESPN’s Taylor Twellman pointed out.
“Jurgen Klinsmann could’ve chosen Eddie Johnson, but he didn’t,” play-by-play man Ian Darke fired right back.
Last weekend, I sat on a couch inside Lewanna Johnson’s modest R-section home, hoping to put together a hometown angle about her son Eddie’s exclusion from the USMNT’s roster, a development that caught many in the soccer world by surprise. The story never materialized. Eddie Johnson was down in Miami, catching a couple nights of the NBA Finals, and Lewanna needed to gauge his interest, anyways.
“I didn’t even want to watch it at first,” Lewanna — my two doors' down neighbor — said, referring to this year’s World Cup. That’s understandable. My dad still roots against UVA’s sports teams because the quasi-ivy league school waitlisted me.
A 2005 Sports Illustrated article talks up a 21-year-old Eddie Johnson as the next big thing in US soccer, describes his former hometown of Bunnell as a “crime-infested housing project,” and describes how he picked up soccer in a Flagler County Rec. League.
“Adds 23-year-old U.S. captain Landon Donovan,” reads the article, “‘One of Eddie's best attributes is that he wants to get better and learn. He has every talent and skill available to him, and if he makes smart decisions, he's going to be phenomenal.’”
My goodness, Donovan was my age — 23 — when quoted. To think, in two Cups’ time, I too, will be past my prime.
When I told Lewanna Johnson that I was also surprised Donovan wasn’t headed to Brazil, she wasn’t.
“We’ll see Monday if this coach knows what he’s doing,” Johnson said, referring to Klinsmann.
Late in the first half Sunday, the naysayers (and not just scorned moms) were out in full voice. Our Delaware-crossing, Nazi-headbutting, not-currently-winning 11 appeared all out of sorts. Portugal’s first tally, a Nani strike at 5’, was basically an own goal. Goeff Cameron’s clearance attempt was about as precise as a Columbus-era musket. Cristóvao Colombo-era, that is. And it literally backfired.
But two straight American goals in the second half, spearheaded by burgeoning heroes, guys named Clint, Jermaine and Graham, gave the good guys a 2-1 lead heading into the final 15 seconds of injury time. Knockout round, here we come.
And then, Ronaldo struck. A 2-2 draw. One measly point instead of three. But still, a foothold in Group G, “The group of death,” heading into Thursday’s match with Germany. Despite this roster's chemistry and the excitement it's generated over two games, it's hard to not wish Johnson was in the mix.