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Eddie Johnson Calls Retirement 'Bittersweet,' Supports Jurgen Klinsmann

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The former USMNT and MLS striker is living in Orlando and scored a pair of goals last night in the Florida Cup charity all-star game. Afterwards, he spoke about his early retirement due to a medical condition, his work with kids and what he thinks of the United States men's program under Jurgen Klinsmann.

Former USMNT and MLS striker Eddie Johnson talked to reporters after last night's Florida Cup All-Star Game.
Former USMNT and MLS striker Eddie Johnson talked to reporters after last night's Florida Cup All-Star Game.

When the final whistle sounded Saturday night at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex Saturday night, the black team had a 6-5 win over the white team in the Florida Cup All-Star Game -- a match between retired players and a handful of Brazilian celebrities that seemed a bit chaotic, yet entertaining.

The game wouldn't have been that close if not for two second-half goals by retired U.S. international striker Eddie Johnson, who walked off the field drenched in sweat after playing the final 45 minutes -- starting in a forward role and migrating back to midfield after a while.

"I'm so tired right now," laughed the former USMNT and MLS striker. "You have no idea."

The 31-year-old, who was forced into retirement early due to a medical condition, assured me it was safe for him to be on the pitch.

"I didn't really move much, so it was OK," he joked. "It was fun to be back out there."

Johnson scored on a breakaway, showing off his trademark pace and timing, slipping behind the back line before slotting home. He also scored on a header off a cross in the game's late stages. The former FC Dallas, Kansas City Wizards, Seattle Sounders and D.C. United star looked as if he could easily step back onto the field and compete in MLS. Johnson admitted that having to give up pro soccer was difficult.

"It's still hard. It's bittersweet," he said. "I know I have a condition that's life threatening, but there's really no restrictions as far as everyday life. It's like I can play but I can't play and it's been really tough. It's good being back on the field with no expectations."

Johnson got involved with Saturday's charity All-Star event when he met Florida Cup CEO Ricardo Villar at an Orlando City match.

"I moved back here about four months ago and I went to a couple of Orlando City games," Johnson said. "(Villar) asked me what I was doing after retirement. I said ‘I've been coaching young kids and stuff, trying to figure out what I want to get into in the next phase of my career.' He said ‘we're doing this charity game, would you like to take part?' Anytime you can play and give back for a good cause, I'm all about doing it."

The game itself seemed secondary, although it was quite entertaining. Unfortunately, I can't give an accurate accounting of the match itself, as there were no accurate team rosters and it was difficult to ascertain who was who.

Players interacted with kids on the field before the game and at halftime, posing for selfies and signing autographs. Johnson has been coaching kids since moving back to Orlando, giving them instruction from the perspective of someone who has played on the world's biggest stages.

"A couple of the kids came out tonight -- my buddy Ian and his brother," Johnson said. "I'm kind of trying to give back to the kids, some experiences that I didn't have as a kid growing up -- coaches that have played at a high level, that have played overseas and who have played in a World Cup - and try to mentor these guys to give them an experience that I never had."

Johnson scored 19 goals in 63 caps with the United States Men's National Team and 37 goals at various levels of the U.S. youth national teams. The native of Bunnell, FL, is uniquely qualified to weigh in on what's going on in the USMNT program.

"I think we're in a good situation," he said. "I think we've got a very good coach who has a ton of experience as a player, and as a coach, in the biggest leagues in the world, and playing for Germany and playing in the World Cup.

"I think with his philosophy and his understanding of the game, it's important for our national team. I think our fans need to be a little more patient with what he's trying to build here in our country. I think he's done a really good job since he's taken over as coach in turning the national team program around and I can only talk from experience as a player who has played under Jurgen Klinsmann."