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'Teddy' Johnson still among Jamaica's best

Published:Tuesday | September 9, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Jamaica's Jermaine Johnson moves the ball as El Salvador's Julio Martinez (left) and teammate Victor Turcios defend during the first half of their international football friendly at the RFK stadium in Washington in May, 2009.-File

Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer

GEORGIA, United States:Enigmatic Jamaica international, Jermaine 'Teddy' Johnson, once again showed why - even at age 34 - he may still be among the Reggae Boyz's best attacking options by scoring a goal and helping to set up another for his new club in the North American Soccer League (NASL) on September 6.

Johnson, who joined Indy Eleven late July after playing more than a dozen years in England, including the premiership, notched his second goal in five appearances this season with a blistering effort early in the first half against Atlanta Silverbacks here.

Playing in the striker's role, he was thwarted earlier by the Silverbacks goalkeeper after outsprinting defenders a decade younger. But in the 15th minute, Johnson took his next opportunity with aplomb, latching on to a pass, cutting in from the right side with pace then driving a powerful right-footer into the far corner to give Indy the lead.

He later took off on another scorching dribble, skipping by a hapless defender before releasing teammate Mike Ambersley, whose cross was easily slotted home by Blake Smith to give the visitors a 2-0 first-half cushion.

hardly surprising

The Silverbacks would eventually pull a goal back, but for their fans used to watching the continent's lukewarm second tier professional football competition, Johnson's exhibition of speed, power and skill was not what they were used to. Yet for the former Tivoli Gardens star and his new teammates, the display was hardly surprising.

"I'm getting fitter and everything," said Johnson, who was released earlier this year by Sheffield Wednesday. "And the goal, I deserve it, because I keep running. I keep running at them."

Indy Eleven coach Juergen Sommer, a former United States international who also played in England, described Johnson's quality as a cut above NASL level.

"His strength, his understanding of the game, his positioning (and) obviously his pace, not a lot of guys out here who can run with him," the coach said. "Even at his age he still has a lot to offer."

Johnson has also convinced teammates. Captain Kleberson, a 2002 World Cup winner with Brazil, called the Jamaican Indy Eleven's best player.

"I think so," Kleberson said. "He's in a great moment now."

"Jermaine is an unbelievable player," added Andrew Corrado.

Johnson, who has more than 70 caps for Jamaica, doesn't believe advancing age has dulled his attacking edge.

"I still have it in my head as a young player," he said. "So I just try to go out there every game and just try to do the same like when I was 21, 22."

While Johnson's on field talent has rarely been questioned, his attitude has received plenty scrutiny. It has cost him dearly. During the last World Cup qualifying campaign, for example, Johnson put on inspired performances - the CONCACAF semi-final round match against the US in Kingston stands out - but found himself on the bench the last two games of the final round and has not been selected since.

However, he said he is still available for Jamaica. Playing in what may be considered an inferior league to what he is used to shouldn't hurt his chances either, he believes.

"I feel like I'm at League One same way, in the English League," said Johnson. "It's good same way. The players work. The players fight the same way. The players run and it's competitive."

Johnson and Sommer declined to disclose terms of the player's contract at Indy Eleven. However, Johnson said he hasn't ruled out playing at a higher level, including Major League Soccer, North America's top competition.

"Once you're playing football, you always want to go to the highest, and I try my best every day," said Johnson. "Just keep fit and just try and get someone to look at me, and see if I can still go up there, because I still feel good."