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New Answer for U.S. Team May be an Old One: Eddie Johnson

Eddie Johnson, left, after scoring for the Seattle Sounders on Oct. 7

MIAMI — The old reliable Clint Dempsey is still there at forward, and the standout midfielder Michael Bradley practiced Tuesday and is ready to make his United States  national team return from injury on Friday night, when the U.S. plays a crucial World Cup qualifier at Antigua and Barbuda.

But Jozy Altidore, once thought to be a rising star, has been left off the roster by Coach Jurgen Klinsmann in a much discussed decision, and Landon Donovan, the face of United States soccer, has been ruled out for Friday and the next game because of an ailing left knee.

The Americans’ hunt for goals has thus led them back to Eddie Johnson, who has been called up to the national team for the first time since 2010.

The last time Johnson scored a goal for the United States was more than four years ago, in June 2008.

Since then, Johnson, 28, has struggled to regain his confidence, resuming sessions with a sports psychologist who had helped him in the past.

Klinsmann said he was impressed with Johnson’s work this year with the Seattle Sounders, where he has set a franchise single-season record with 14 goals.

The coach also said he had not given up on Altidore, who leads the Dutch league in scoring but has struggled in his recent appearances for the United States.

“The door remains open for Jozy,” Klinsmann said. “It was just about what we saw from him the last couple of times. But it’s up to him now to show a positive response, which I am sure he will.

“This is Eddie’s opportunity. Eddie has a big smile on his face. He has proved in the past that he can score goals, and we need goals.”

It would help if those goals show up on Friday at Antigua and again Tuesday in Kansas City, Kan., against Guatemala. A win and a tie would push the United States through to the final round of qualifying.

Johnson said he was ready for the challenge.

“I’m still only 28 — a lot of people think I’m old,” said Johnson, who signed with Major League Soccer at 17. “I know when I’m in the right environment, with people who believe in me, I can score goals. I’ve proven that this year.”

Johnson said getting the call to return to the national team was a “humbling and overwhelming” feeling.

He said he felt like a “new guy” on the team because he had been away so long. He played for the United States in the 2006 World Cup but was cut just before the 2010 team left for South Africa.

For a while, it looked as if Johnson was the answer to Team USA’s long search for a goal-scorer to combine with Dempsey and Donovan. He scored seven goals in his first six World Cup qualifiers, stunning production for someone who was just 20.

But Johnson’s confidence started to wane in 2008, when he began competing in Europe and often played sparingly. Johnson played for teams in Wales, Greece and England before agreeing to terms with the Mexican team Puebla last December. But he never played with Puebla and was without a club team for nearly nine months. He began to wonder if he would ever get another chance.

“I’ve been through a lot the past 18 months,” Johnson said. “I went to Puebla, and the rumor was that I wasn’t fit enough. They didn’t want to sign me.”

Shortly after that, in May, Johnson’s cousin, Daries Giddens died of a brain aneurysm at 21.

Johnson returned to IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., where he began training with the U-17 national team. He also reunited with a Florida-based sports psychologist, Trevor Moawad.

“A lot of people don’t believe in it, but it works,” Johnson said of sports psychology. “Every athlete loses his confidence at times. You start reading things, seeing things. Everywhere you go, you are hearing this and that. It takes a toll on your confidence, and you start second-guessing yourself.”

Johnson said that Moawad had him watch highlights of himself scoring goals.

“I just kept telling myself: ‘This is what I can do. This is why I was blessed with this ability. This is me. I may be going through a tough time right now, but this is what I can do when I’m working hard.’ ”

Johnson said he felt no pressure to be the goal-scorer the Americans need in the next two games. Instead, he feels happy and confident.

“I have to be doing something right for the coaches to call me in,” he said. “It’s good to be back around the

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