The ups scream from his stats sheet, as Johnson leads Seattle with nine goals and 27 shots on target, and he is second with 51 shots. He also contributed a pair of assists. The downs have come mostly off the pitch: His infamous "Pay Me" goal celebration in Columbus, and that incident in the final week of the regular season when coach Sigi Schmid told him to stay away from training for reasons still undisclosed.
By coincidence, it was that week -- on Johnson's first day back at training -- when I had scheduled a one-on-one interview with him for a story that we were planning to run during the playoffs. (That story appears in our Tuesday edition.) Here is a transcript of that 15-miute interview, in which Johnson explains his motivations for playing soccer and ends up volunteering praise for Schmid and for the Sounders organization and its fans:
What motivates you to play soccer: I think my No. 1 as far as what motivates me is my two kids. I grew up one of three with a single mom in Bunnell, Fla., and one of my things is, whatever it was -- going to school and getting an education, or in sports – if I ever had an opportunity to do something and get paid to do it, I wanted to not take it for granted and use that opportunity to give back to the people that helped me along the way, and that’s my mom and my kids. So I think that’s what drives me to keep doing well. And I think my third reason in what motivates me is the love for this game, the love of soccer. You play at your best when you’re enjoying it, when you’re happy. You try to better yourself in training and in every match, to play to the best of your ability and to learn and get better and better as the years go by.
On if there can be conflict between playing for money and playing for love of the game: Yeah. That’s a good point. They always say it’s not about the money. You know, back then it was for the love of the game and the passion of the game. But now we know it’s a business now. We see all the big transfers around the world in this game, and the money that’s being invested in players, it’s ridiculous, but it’s not the players fault. It’s what the player has done on that club and how that club values that person when that person departs. They say your careers are short. You want to make as much as you can, because when you’re done, no one (cares) about you. A lot of players would be lying if they said they didn’t play the game to make good money, to be able to provide for their family. It is hard to be able to balance that out because you do want to go out and you want to enjoy the game and the love of the sport, but at the same time, there are different players that have been blessed to play at this level who come from different upbringings. Some guys have come from families where you know if soccer doesn’t go well, they’re still OK. They come from families that have worked hard and have made good money and always are going to have their back. For guys like my situation – guys that don’t come from much – I see this as an opportunity: This is what the Lord has blessed me with, this talent, and this is how I can give back to my mom – a single mom raising three kids, who worked two jobs all of his life to be able to provide for us. So yeah, they conflict at times. But at the end of the day, I know none of that stuff is possible if I’m not doing it for the love of the game. The financial part wouldn’t come, because when you’re happy and you’re playing to the best of your ability, that’s when you flourish, that’s when you rise above all the expectations and you’re doing your best on a consistent basis.
On playing for his own ego: I think a lot of the forwards in the world have big egos. I think the best players in the world in any sport have big egos. I think sometimes the people that know me, have seen me grow up from when I played Pop Warner football, AAU basketball, football in high school, club soccer, youth national teams – I’ve been given this opportunity. This was my way out of the inner city, to play soccer. This was my hidden talent that I was blessed with that I discovered by meeting these three individuals: these white kids I’ve talked about in the stories and my coach, the white family that helped me out and stuff. So this is my opportunity. I was an average student in school. School wasn’t really my thing. So this was my way out to be able to give back to my mom. So whenever I have the opportunity to play, I don’t take it for granted, and that’s why I play with so much passion, and I play with so much emotions. And I think sometimes it gets misperceived, because how I am now, I’ve always been like that, even as a young kid in competitive sports: I hate to lose. And I wish everyone could have that same mentality as me, because I know I don’t want to go back to where I grew up. There’s nothing there. So that’s why I think sometimes my passion on the field or my attitude, because I always had to fight adversity growing up. I think it gets misperceived sometimes.
On if he’s motivated by those who doubt or dislike him: That’s exactly what I do. I feed off of it. I love that. If you’re going to hate me, hate me. I’ll show you. I never really loved like boxing. Back when you’re a little kid, everyone wanted to watch MikeTyson or (Evander) Holyfield or Oscar De La Hoya. But I became a real big “Money” Mayweather fan, not because of all the money he made or stuff, but the consistency. To win 47 fights and not having taken a loss, that’s amazing. And people don’t see all the hard work that goes behind him and the finances he made. That’s why I always tweet ‘hard work and dedication.’ I get that from him. You know I like that episodes before the big fights that show him working out and stuff. I know he comes from a place like I come from – nothing – and now you have this opportunity to do something you love, and you do it to the best of your ability, and now you have all this money being thrown at you. And coming up in the inner city, no one in your family has ever managed this type of money, never had control over this type of money, and don’t know how to tell you to put it to use. So you go out and try to have these people around you and trust these people around you that you don’t really know but you kind of want to trust them, and now your lifestyle changes and somebody sees you with a $100,000 chain on, and it’s like, oh, he’s changed. No, he hasn’t changed. He wants to buy the things that he couldn’t afford. I think sometimes that’s where some people get misperceived: Oh, he’s flashy; he’s cocky; he’s driving a $100,000 car. It’s all of the things as a kid you dreamed of having, and then you worked so hard, so why not please yourself.
On if – despite the haters – he realizes he also has many fans who support him: That’s why I got onto Twitter. I wanted the fans to see a different side of me. We train two hours, two and a half hours, a day; have the rest of the day to myself. So I was like, ‘Why not interact with my fans.’ And so I thought when Twitter came out, I thought, I’m going to talk to my fans. If I can talk to all of them I’ll try, and do it on a consistent basis, because what they see and what they hear is not the person that I really am. That’s something that’s really important to me, is letting them know that I’m a normal human being. I cry. I get frustrated. I play with a lot of passion. I get sad. I’m no different than you are. And if I can take my time out there, I try to talk to them and answer questions or try to help someone out who’s playing soccer and trying to get to where I am and give them tips and stuff. I love Seattle. There were some doubters when I first came. But it’s like any other business. You work somewhere. Things will go wrong or don’t go so well. And they you get another business opportunity and all the people know of you is the business that you just left – and that’s Europe, and things didn’t go well for me. So of course there are going to be doubters. But my thing was I’m going to come back to a league that’s gotten a lot better. I’m coming back to a great organization with a good coach who’s done well in his coaching career. It was all about the right opportunity, and when the right opportunity came I wanted to seize the moment, because I knew I had a lot left in my tank, and I knew over in Europe your chances are limited. You don’t get a fourth and fifth chance. You get, one, two three; four, five, no. Then another striker comes in and starts banging in goals, and there you go. You’re out of the pecking order. So I sat down with Sigi, and from Day One he told me that this is how it is, I’m going to believe in you, you’re going to believe in me, this is what we’re trying to accomplish, and as long as we can stay on the same page we’re going to do great things here. He’s been a man of his word, and I’m just trying to reward him for giving me the opportunity when I’m on the field.
On if he wants to go back and prove himself to doubters in Europe: I don’t have nothing to prove to anyone in Europe. People don’t realize this league is getting so much better. Dempsey’s just turned 30 and he’s back here. There’s many good years left that he could have stayed, and with a big club, but it goes to show you that this league is getting better and why do we need to go over there when we can have an amazing league and attract players like Henry, and David Beckham and Robbie Keane, Tim Cahill, just to name a few – Donovan and all the success that he’s had in his career, playing his whole career in MLS. So why would we want to leave this beautiful country. I don’t have anything to prove to them. If anything, I’ll prove something to them when the U.S. plays England, or the U.S. plays another country in Europe. But it’s about being in a good environment, a professional environment, playing in a league where the level is high enough that you’re going to work hard and you’re going to get better day in and day out, and I’ve done that here these last two years in Seattle: I’ve gotten better as a player.
On anything he wants to tell Sounders fans: I’m happy here. These last two years (have been) the happiest in a very long time: playing soccer and enjoying my soccer. It’s them fans that are here that believe in me, that are rooting for the team week in and week out. This is where I want to be at. I know there’s a lot of stuff that’s being said in the media and stuff, but I just want to let you guys know that I’m happy here and to keep sticking behind the team in the good and bad like you’ve always done.