The Sprint to Strike: EJ vs. Cunningham

We had such a good time with our poll yesterday, that we thought we’d come back to the same format today.

Results from yesterday? (As of 10:30 PST, November 10th), 56% of TSG readers do not want Sacha Kljestan, based on his on-field behavior not necessarily his ability, to represent the USMNT.

Today, we have a decidedly more upbeat, airy poll for you, prodded on by TSG reader Dylan’s comments in our preview piece.


Let's hope EJ's production goes retro, pre-, not post-2006.

TSG has already illuminated possible stand-ins for Charlie Davies. And we’re also keen to see an in-form Robbie Findley post the MLS playoffs.

This week’s Slovakia camp will give Coach USA a chance to, at least preliminarily, evaluate Eddie Johnson and Jeff Cunningham and how they interact and play within the team. The game on Saturday may give one or both strikers the opportunity to show Bradley just how they compete versus a somewhat formidable international side.

Who are you most excited to witness and why?

Per Dylan’s comments–being that he was probably born when I was already in high school–he has not seen a ton of Eddie Johnson before. When he mentioned that this morning, I remember thinking one thing: how every message board, blog, text message and more lit up like 5th Avenue during World Cup 2006 that Eddie Johnson would be somewhat of savior should Bruce Arena throw him out there against the likes of the Czech Republic, Italy and Ghana.

A somewhat difficult and insurmountable situation for the Florida-born Johnson who was all of 22 at the time. EJ finally did make a late cameo against Ghana.

So here is a tale of the tape.  Vote and add your commentary.

Jeff Cunningham

Summary: The 33-year-old, 5’8” striker tallied an astounding 17 goals in 28 appearances in 2009, for an absolutely ludicrous goals to appearance ratio of 60%. Wait, I’ll make that stat more impressive for you.

» Cunningham only started 23 of those games. Yowzers!

» Cunningham was not the de facto penalty kicker taker, nor especially proficient I might add. The PK responsibility fell to Kenny Cooper who went 2-for-2. Upon Cooper shipping overseas, Cunningham took 3, but only made 1


Cunningham: Dominant for Dallas

To put that goals to appearances stat in perspective, Fernando Torres for Liverpool was 72% in his killer 2007-2008 EPL campaign and 58% last year for the Reds.

The much traveled Cunningham can be considered a poor man’s Jermain Defoe, quick enough to squirt and dart between defenders for goals on the run. Where he falls short of Defoe (who has bulked up even more this year) is on-the-ball strength, will the strong and able defenders who will be like weeds in South Africa (like a Glen Johnson on the wing or a Chiellini in the middle) be able to knock him off the ball? Cunningham goes about 165-170lbs.

While Cunningham is producing right now, he’s failed to do so for the USMNT (except by me in FIFA ’06 but I digress…he has just a wicked speed rating in that game) accounting for 0 goals in 10 appearances with his last cap coming in 2005 (I think, check me on that one).

Questions of attitude and commitment also dog Cunningham.

Eddie Johnson

Summary: The 25-year-old EJ just crosses the 6’0 ft mark. Having recently been recalled to the Fulham mother ship, EJ is spending more time on the pitch in the reserves rather than on Saturdays at Craven Cottage. As we mentioned above, EJ was looked on as sort of an offensive knight in shinguards for the 2006 World Cup as Ba-Ba-Booey Arena (sorry the nickname is sticking…at least temporarily) continually trotted out 4-5-1


EJ: Still trying to blaze the trail at Fulham

formations that left Brian McBride to fend for himself. But I digress.

EJ’s career started off with a bang sonic boom as the youngster detonated on the scene at the World Youth Series for the USMNT becoming the tournament’s top goal scorer despite the US being knocked out in the quarters by Argentina.

From there it was on to the senior side, where Johnson’s early games bear a mirror-like resemblance to Jozy’s, including a hat-trick in World Cup qualification. EJ is still one of the goal scoring leaders for the USMNT in World Cup qualification.

On the club side, after a series of injuries, failed attempts to get over to Europe and uneven club and country play, EJ found himself at Fulham in 2008. Since that time he’s been loaned to Cardiff City and recalled and struggled to be achieve a consistent place in Fulham’s starting 18, battling the likes of Eric Nevland and Diomansy Kamara for the right to deputize for Andrew Johnson and Bobby Zamora. EJ has typically found himself 5th in that pecking order.

As for Eddie on the pitch, pace is something that EJ does when he is resting. Just like MLB announcer Tim McCarver might describe a pitcher’s fastball as having “pop” or “looking faster as it gets to the plate,” so is EJ’s deceptive speed as balls that seem out of range or an easy win for the defender are rendered fair game. What I like about Johnson’s game is his ability to finish off the dribble or pull-up and drive a laser shot. That skill cannot be taught.

The knock on EJ beyond his past three years of falling production? I’ll answer with commentary from TSG reader “Berg” who contributed this in our preview piece:

“I’m excited to see if he’s changed at all over the last 2 years. He’s got some wheels but what I remember about him is that he, A) needed a ball to be almost perfectly played to him in order to do something with it and B) Looked disinterested in the game if he felt he wasn’t involved enough. He basically had to get some chances in the first 15 minutes in order to stay in the game mentally.”

I’ll add that I hope Johnson has learned to challenge the offsides line smarter (I can’t count the times that I remember EJ taking off either too early and earning a flag or too late and the goalie eating the ball) and show a general better feel for the game–which I think echoes Berg’s comments of “disinterest” above.


So, you make the call. Simply, who are you more excited to see and why?

14 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kaya on 2009/11/10 at 2:36 PM

    Getting anywhere on your research piece for getting WC tickets? =)


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/10 at 2:52 PM

      Absolutely nowhere — actually just have not had a moment yet (and the reminder is good.)

      We’re on it.


      • Posted by Timmy on 2009/11/10 at 3:02 PM

        I pretty much suspect that if you make your way to RSA (and the respective cities), you will be able to find tickets for just about any game you want – due to the economic environment of the country. It won’t be like Germany 2006 for tickets.


        • Posted by kaya on 2009/11/10 at 3:30 PM

          Even for Germany, plenty of people told me “just go, you’ll find tickets”. They also ended up in plenty of places crashing 6-8 people in a hotel room. Some people can’t or don’t want to leave things that up in the air. I have a 13 month old and a reluctant husband, so I’ll really have to play my cards carefully.
          I’m having a helluva a time just trying to plan a reasonable itinerary for a little R&R in Belize in January. I’ll need all the help I can get if I’m gonna get to SA!


        • Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/11/10 at 6:23 PM

          awesome kaya. I’m half belizean on my mother’s side


    • Posted by Antonio H. on 2009/11/10 at 6:21 PM

      my friend is trading walking the stage for a trip to south africa. and the start date just happens to be my birthday. I fail


  2. Posted by Matt B on 2009/11/10 at 3:26 PM

    While I am intrigued to see both guys play, I am looking forward to seeing EJ a whole lot more. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that his fall from grace has led him to change his habits and work quite a bit harder. I’m also hoping that his time in England has helped his technique and his confidence. The last few times I saw Eddie play, he didn’t take any defenders on. It seemed like every time he got the ball, he just took a touch and then played a back pass. If he plays with confidence, his speed alone makes him intriguing.


    • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/10 at 4:41 PM

      Agree Matt. I’d like to see EJ seize the day so to speak.

      I think, as USMNT fans, we’re all hoping for just a little bit of Charlie-In-A-Bottle.


      • I admit I haven’t seen too much of Eddie since the WC, however from this piece it seems as if he has some of the same qualities Charlie brings, if not the same nose for the goal. As they say, form is temporary, class is permanent. EJ gaining a little form certainly would be a nice surprise, and maybe get him a transfer out of Craven Cottage.


        • Posted by matthewsf on 2009/11/10 at 5:46 PM

          The clip below is how I feel about EJ (circa 2006). One moment you want to want to break your TV (well not that bad), the next you wish it was fixed.


        • Great clip, hits the nail on the head, well for the EJ that we saw years ago.


  3. Posted by Swa on 2009/11/10 at 6:29 PM

    Voted for EJ because Cunningham doesn’t really stir up any emotion for me at all and I do have memories of EJ being the alleged next big thing and despising Arena for continuing to sit him, but really it’s neither.

    I was totally torn on the Columbus-RSL matchup Thursday night because I couldn’t decide which Robbie I wanted to see out there next week. As of now I think getting Marshall in there breaks the tie but what’s important is that Findley has really intrigued me since Bob called him up for ElSal and T&T and I decided to keep an eye on him, and I know I’m not the only one. EJ and Cunningham can duke it out all they want in Bratislava and/or Aalborg, but is it really going to vault either one ahead of Casey or RFind? (and that’s forgetting the fact that Charlie WILL BE BACK, come on now). It’s far more important for Jozy to develop more of a relationship with CC or Deuce in these games than to be concerning ourselves with guys that would not be here if Frankie Haircut doesn’t arm tackle Espindola in the box and change the whole complexion of that match (Robbie Findley also coolly stepped up and put away the ensuing penalty, not saying just saying). Especially if he’s able to continue his run of form and lead his team to further playoff success, there is little question Cunningham and EJ will be on the outside looking in no matter how they perform on the 14th and 18th.

    Furthermore, although Casey clearly got a little trigger happy after his scoring spree in San Pedro Sula, he also showed some incredibly deft first touches when distributing the ball to others and if he and Jozy can start reading each others minds (not to mention if Stu and Lando get more time to learn where he likes to position that dome of his), then I have faith that we can be in good shape up top by next June. Jozy and CC to start off, Findley or one of our many potential midfield supersubs in for Casey around the 60th (the latter pushing Deuce up top) sounds like it has potential if the big boys get more time together in the coming months, something that will not happen if Bob is legitimately going to use these matches to try to get the EJ train rolling again.


  4. According to your poll, I’m more “excited” (I’ll call it intrigued) to see Cunningham. Form may be temporary, but temporary form can carry a player for a quite a few months, if given the right amount of playing time, scoring opportunities, etc.

    Realistically I’d like to see both get into the game on Saturday and do well, having both of them showing enough to possibly make it onto the SA 23 would be a bonus for Bob. I think Eddie still has somewhat of a future with the squad, so ideally we’d like him to make it back to where he was. Having Cunningham hitting a good run of form for the ‘Nats should push him to work harder.


  5. […] JC vs. EJ, first. Well, we actually did a write-up on this a few months ago and 77% of you said you were more excited to see EJ. Our thinking a few months […]


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