Godfrey's Daily Rant

Eddie Johnson Called Me a Clown...and I Liked It

When a top American soccer player disses you in public, you can either laugh or cry. Or rant. I decided to rant. Here's my take on clowns, haters, and the value of soccer player ratings.
BY John Godfrey Posted
August 28, 2013
1:57 PM
EDDIE JOHNSON CALLED ME A CLOWN the other day, and I have to admit that his Twitter taunt brought a greasepainted tear of joy to my eye.

Before we get into it, I feel obliged to say that I like and admire Eddie Johnson. I've interviewed him multiple times in mixed zones across the CONCACAF region, and he always seemed polite, thoughtful, and—at least by contemporary professional athlete standards—candid. EJ had a rough go of it during his time with Fulham, and his confidence must have taken a beating. But he came back to Major League Soccer in 2012, turned his career around, and now looks like a shoo-in for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It's a great comeback story, and since I'm a sucker for an underdog, I'm genuinely happy for the guy.

OK, enough context. Here's the actual tweet he posted. (You can see how his followers responded by clicking right here.)

So yes, the No. 17-ranked player in the ASN 100 called out American Soccer Now a few short hours after he scored a goal for the United States in its thrilling 4-3 win over Bosnia and Herzegovina.

When I first saw EJ's tweet I thought, "Wow, he found a way to secretly videotape our ASN editorial meetings, and damn—he's onto us. We are a bunch of horn-honking, tiny car-riding, child-frightening bozos—especially Ryan O'Hanlon and Noah Davis."

But then the "hating" part of his tweet made me realize that EJ wasn't disparaging all of ASN; he was wagging his finger at me. And it was all because of my U.S.—Bosnia player ratings article, in which I gave EJ a rating of 4 out of a possible 10. Here's what I wrote:

Eddie Johnson: Sometimes you score a goal on the road against a very strong team…and you still get a poor rating from ASN. This is one of those times. Johnson was tentative in the attack and is 100% at fault for Bosnia’s first goal. He just gave the ball away. It was unacceptable. He scored, yes, but Bradley and Altidore did all of the work on that one. Rating: 4

I certainly wasn't alone in my mostly negative assessment of EJ's performance. Lower than most, yes. But it wasn't like ESPN's Jeff Carlisle and the New York Times' Brian Sciaretta both gave EJ 9s. See for yourself.

I gave him a 4. Three of my esteemed colleagues gave him a 5. And ASN's scary-smart readers produced an average score of 5.1. All reasonable, in my opinion. There's no hating or clowning. It's a subjective, thoughtful attempt to evaluate.

That said, soccer player ratings are something of a curiosity in the sports world. Yes, some sportswriters grade NFL players in their Monday columns, but these pieces aren't central to the NFL post-game conversation. In soccer, player ratings are definitely a big deal. And at least one player that we know of actually reads player ratings—and for that we're grateful.

Also, I love writing them. Perhaps that's because I got my start as a theater critic on the West Coast and I just enjoy the entire review process. Why was one performance good? What made the other one bad? How do you break it all down and articulate it to readers? I live for that sort of stuff.

Or maybe it's because soccer, unlike the other major sports in America, resists statistical analysis. Unlike baseball, where the box score tells you just about everything you need to know, or American football, which is incredibly stat-centric, soccer pundits—like theater critics—rely heavily on qualitative analysis.

Did the midfielder make the smart pass on the counterattack? Did the central defender play the opposing striker onside? Did the goalkeeper come out for the cross inside the six-yard box or did he hesitate? Did the actor bring depth and insight to his monologue or did he just play for the cheap laughs?

There are more soccer statistics available now than ever before. And yes, we incorporate stats from Opta and elsewhere from time to time. But I don't think soccer stats will ever catch on the way they have in other sports. And if I'm right about that, player ratings will continue to play a significant role in the soccer media landscape. And I'm very much OK with that.

The players might not always like it, especially when they have a bad day at the office. (Sorry EJ.) And there will always be some soccer writers who patently refuse to write player ratings because they don't want to risk angering the same athletes they may be seeking to interview the following week.

I get it. Everybody's got their take. It's all good.

But as far as American Soccer Now is concerned, player ratings are here to stay. We love them. We hope you love reading them, commenting on them, and using our interactive tools to create your own.

We'll never pump up a rating hoping it will curry favor with a player. We will never hold back if a player deserves to be criticized for his performance.

And we are absolutely willing to risk being called clowns, or worse, every step of the way.

John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.

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