Nobody has had a greater influence on Johnson's pro career than assistant coach Brian Haynes, who invited Eddie to live with him after his arrival in Dallas. From the day the 17-year-old confided that a friend of his had been shot in Florida, Haynes has straddled the duties of cajoling coach and fatherly counsel, with an emphasis on the latter. A former player for Dallas and Trinidad and Tobago, Haynes takes Johnson to breakfast with the rest of the family (wife Jeanne and children Jordan, 8, and Jonah, 5) on weekends and to the Fellowship of Frisco church on Sundays. In turn, Johnson respects the house rules, pays a small rent and pitches in for groceries.
"Brian and I were meant to be brought into each other's lives," says Johnson, who while growing up didn't have a relationship with his biological father. (He's a member of the military and is serving in Iraq.) "[Haynes] is a big-time Christian guy, and I was a kid who had a lot of talent that he didn't want to see go to waste. No coach had ever pulled me aside and said, 'Eddie, you have the potential to do this, but you have to be patient and wait for your time to come.' He taught me how to deal with situations when they aren't going right--and when they are."
"We've cried together developing that trust," says Haynes, 43. "And I've been brutally honest about things. I said, 'Eddie, you've got to prove yourself in the pros. So shut your mouth in training, work your tail off and get better.' When [the other coaches] saw how hard he was working, how he was fitter than every other player, no one could say a [bad] word to him."
In 2003, Johnson won the Golden Boot with four goals at the World Youth Championship, and the city of Bunnell renamed the field on which he first kicked a ball the Edward Johnson Soccer Field. New Dallas coach Colin Clarke made him a starter in '04; Johnson banged in 12 goals to tie for the MLS lead last season, and his national-team breakthrough soon followed. Yet those aren't the only changes that have taken place over the past two years. Besides cutting out references to himself in the third person, Johnson now uses such Anglicisms as literally, at the end of the day and bum (the result of his 10 days with Manchester United). Likewise, he has traded in what he calls his "Dirty South look" (gold chains, baggy clothes and gold caps for his teeth) for Diesel jeans, vintage T-shirts, Prada sunglasses and a Louis Vuitton man purse. "Ladies like tight jeans so their bum can look nice, and I like clothes that make my body look good," he says. "It's very Euro."
When and whether Johnson will take his Continental look to the source remains uncertain. MLS turned down a $3 million bid from Spain's Real Mallorca last winter in addition to the $4 million offer from Benfica. More-lucrative proposals may roll in during this summer's transfer window (July 1 to Aug. 31), but Arena prefers that Johnson remain in Dallas through next year's World Cup. "If he gets drawn into a new environment and has to get acclimated to Europe, then he's wasting an important year when he should play on a continual basis," the U.S. coach says. "Where he is right now is perfect."
Fully aware that he won't have enough national-team appearances to qualify for a U.K. work permit (and a spot in the English Premier League) until after the World Cup, Johnson is inclined to agree. "I look at the World Cup like it's going to make me or break me," he says. "I want to win a championship in MLS this year, and hopefully I'll keep doing well and get sold [to a European team] after the World Cup or a year after that. I don't mind being in America the next two years."
At week's end Johnson was negotiating an increase in his $110,000-a-year MLS contract, which expires in 2006. After the recent signing of Donovan to a guaranteed five-year, $4.5 million deal, MLS commissioner Don Garber acknowledges that the league is willing to compete with European clubs for a select group of young American stars. "We want kids to dream of playing for FC Dallas and being like Eddie," Garber says. "Our future is going to have us looking to these special players as the foundations for the sport, and we need to find ways to provide salaries that are competitive with other parts of the world. More important than that, we need them to believe in the league and their role in building the sport."
MLS's big decision may come after the World Cup, when there could be an eight-figure transfer bid for Johnson. But if the league is willing to cough up the cash, Johnson is willing to listen. "We tend to go overseas to make the good money," he says, "but if you can get it here, why not stay?"
He finishes his lunch at an eatery in Frisco, a sprawling suburb north of Dallas, and drives off in a gray 2004 Chevy Impala, its only extravagance a set of 20-inch rims. ("That's my first car, so I didn't want to get anything big," he says. "I'm not there yet.") Life is good these days. His mother traveled to Alabama to watch him play as a pro for the first time, in the U.S.'s 2--0 win over Guatemala in March, and he scored a goal for her. "He always used to keep kicking a cup from the kitchen around the house, but I never knew it would end up like this," says Lewanna, who now lives in a three-bedroom house in Palm Coast, Fla. "Now he says, 'See where that cup got me?'"
Johnson had five goals in nine games for FC Dallas through Sunday, and he soon plans on leaving the Haynes house. He's 21, after all. "It's time," Johnson says. "I'll still come around, but it'll be nice to have my freedom, and I can walk around my house buck naked if I want to."