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Michael Lewis

November 10, 2009
It's crunch time for Cunningham, Johnson

By Michael Editor

Trust me, I'm not going to lose any sleep over Landon Donovan not playing for the U.S. National Team in a pair of international friendlies in Slovakia and Denmark next week.

His club team, the Los Angeles Galaxy, needs him more than his country does.

Besides, U.S. national coach Bob Bradley needs to look at some fresh legs as he tries to replace what many soccer observers feel is the irreplaceable Charlie Davies for the World Cup. given the injuries he suffered as a passenger in fatal car crash in northern Virginia last month, it will take an absolute miracle for him to be fully match fit come the World Cup in South Africa in June. His health is much more important than the U.S.'s success.

We all saw how Davies' speed and finishing transformed the American attack.

The U.S. team has forwards to take his place in the lineup, but not anyone who can fill his boot.

So, Bradley brought in a couple of familiar faces into the team for the friendlies who haven't lived up to expectations and potential -- Jeff Cunningham and Eddie Johnson.

Cunningham was the hottest player in MLS this summer. Taking over as the No. 1 striker on FC Dallas after Kenny Cooper left to play in Germany, Cunningham went on one of the great scoring tears in MLS history, taking Dallas from playoff outsiders to the door of the post-season. Dallas failed to make the MLS' elite eight, but Cunningham will get another opportunity to show what he can do. Oh yeah, he has scored 121 goals and assisted on 68 others in 317 MLS regular-season appearances.

But the 5-7, 172-lb. Cunningham has several strikes against him. He hasn't been productive in the few times he has played for the National Team, going scoreless (he has two assists) in 264 minutes over 10 games and two starts. He is 34-years-old, which is considered old for a forward in a World Cup. And he has a reputation for not having the right attitude (how else could you explain the fact he has played for five MLS teams over a dozen years?).

Johnson -- well, I think they've had to put out an all points bulletin on him in recent years because he has fallen so far below the radar, due to injuries and a decline in form. Johnson, 25, is on the Fulham FC roster, although he rarely plays for the English Premier League side.

At one time he was considered one of the hot young talents in MLS. He actually was given $875,000 contract even though he scored only 12 MLS career goals up to that juncture. But the 6-foot, 180-lb Johnsonís speed helped his meteoric rise. He scored in his National Team debut and then connected for a hat-trick during a 17-minute span while coming off the bench in a World Cup qualifying win over Panama days later in 2004. Johnson, who last played for the U.S. against in a qualifier as a sub against Trinidad & Tobago in September 2008, has found the back of the net 12 times in 37 internationals.

So much potential, yet much of it unrealized today.

Like Davies, Johnson has speed that could stretch defenses and force opposing teams not just to collapse on the Americans' other striker, former Red Bulls forward Jozy Altidore, who is getting more starts for the National team than his club side, Hull City FC (now, that's a rarity, if not a first).

The U.S. needs a reliable partner for Altidore. One of Bradley's task is find a way to resurrect Cunningham and/or Johnson to perform consistently at international level. It won't be an easy one, but a shot worth taking now rather than start with training camp in January.

Bradley and the U.S. must consider every option.

You never know when you can catch lightning in a bottle, and when youíre in a competition like the World Cup, every goal counts.

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