On the new episode of the Planet Fútbol podcast, we interview Eddie Johnson, the former U.S. men's national team forward who had a 15-year club career and played in three different World Cup cycles, including at the 2006 tournament in Germany. Johnson has reinvented himself as a skills-development coach in Orlando, working with kids as well as pros like Christian Pulisic, Justin Meram, Cyle Larin and soon Dom Dwyer and Sydney Leroux.
Johnson describes how he transitioned into his post-playing career after a heart ailment cut it short, what his ambitions are as a coach down the line and how he wound up working with Pulisic during the American star's offseason.
You can listen to the full conversation in the podcast console below and subscribe to and download the Planet Fútbol Podcast on iTunes. Recent guests include former U.S. men's national team standout Tony Sanneh, broadcasters Bob Ley and Derek Rae, U.S. and Columbus Crew goalkeeper Zack Steffen and RB Leipzig assistant and former New York Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch.
Here's a selection from an entertaining and insightful interview:
On how he got started as a skills-development coach:
“Long story short: When I retired in 2015, I moved to Orlando, back to Florida where I was originally from … I knew I wanted to stay involved in soccer, and I knew they had the whole Orlando City franchise there. I was going to try and use my experience and find what it was that I still wanted to do. I knew I always wanted to get into coaching, but a good friend of mine that I grew up playing soccer with in Florida, he said, ‘Before you get into coaching you might want to start training kids first just to see if you kind of like it. Because the whole coaching thing is completely different than playing. Don't take this the wrong way, but just because you were a good player doesn't mean you're going to be a coach.’ During training you can find out how you interact with different individuals ... So I started training a couple of kids, and a couple kids turned into 20 kids, and 20 kids turned into 50 kids, and 50 kids turned into a hundred kids ... So I was like, maybe this is my calling.”
On what led to Christian Pulisic flying to Orlando and training under Johnson for five days:
“He would just comment on certain videos that I would post about what I was doing with the younger kids, and then after last season he sent me a DM on social media, on Instagram, and said, ‘Hey Eddie, I love what you're doing I'm going to take some time off in the offseason. I'd love to fly into Orlando and get some work in with you for about four or five days.’ I said, ‘Are you kidding me, man? I'd love to do that.’ He asked me what hotels are close to the training facility where I train, and we just made it work. He came here, and we got five days in doing double days, and it was amazing, man. It was an unbelievable experience.”
On the challenges of coaching in youth soccer:
“This is the sad part, and I'm going to put it out there: What I do, I'm in no competition with any other youth clubs here in Florida, but still these clubs will stop players from training with me. Clubs will say, ‘If you are training with Eddie Johnson, we’ll punish your kids, or they'll get kicked off the team.’ It's crazy. And the reason for that is that a lot of the things that I do, a lot of my knowledge and experience, these club coaches don't have that.”
On whether he’s surprised that in 2018 American soccer still hasn’t tapped into the African-American community very much for its talent, particularly the inner-city areas where he grew up:
“I’m very surprised … They should be telling our stories, man. Because my story is different than everyone else’s … I’m an African-American inner-city kid. Government housing. My story is the same as a basketball player or a football player. I've been around the drugs. I've been around home invasions. All the stuff you see that goes on TV, I grew up in that. I made it away from all that stuff. So I'm saying if they take stories like that and they get someone like me, if I'm involved with U.S. Soccer, to go around the country and tell my story and go to these YMCAs and Boys & Girls Clubs, that will inspire kids to want to go down that path. But we're not telling those stories or going into those environments, and we're not going to get our best athletes. Because our best athletes, they all play football, they all play basketball, and where do they come from? They all come from the inner city.”