Concussions lead to Johnson’s retirement

English forward leaves game to ensure future health

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

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PORTLAND -- Eddie Johnson is 27 years old.

For many professional athletes, 27 is the age when they enter their prime. It should not be the age when a player is forced to retire.

But for Eddie Johnson, that is the reality. The Portland Timbers forward announced his retirement last week, a 10-year career in professional soccer cut short by a series of concussions.

“Obviously I didn’t come to it lightly,” Johnson said of his decision to retire.

On Tuesday he met with the media following the Timbers’ training session at Jeld-Wen Field.

“I made sure I gave myself enough opportunity to make the right decision. With everything the specialists were saying, it was just the right decision.”

Johnson suffered three concussions in less than seven months. On Tuesday he talked about doctors warning that more concussions might increase his risk for Alzheimer’s and other brain diseases.

Johnson’s 2011 season was delayed by a hamstring injury. He played in seven MLS matches last season, scoring one goal.

“It’s sad. We’ve lost a good one,” Timbers coach John Spencer said. “He’s a very, very good person, a great professional.”

The coach said he never suffered a concussion during his own playing career. But Spencer lauded Johnson for making the smart decision for his future.

Johnson is a native of Chester, England, who began his professional career at age 17 with Manchester United. He said he and his family will return to the UK.

The first concussion happened on Aug. 3, 2011, as the Timbers warmed up for their home match against the Los Angeles Galaxy, a match Johnson was tabbed to start. He was struck in the side of the head by a ball.

Two weeks later, Johnson returned to the starting lineup for a game at Houston. But a first-half collision ended his night -- and his season.

“Maybe the second one was the worse one,” Johnson said. “But once you have the first one you’re at a heightened risk to get more.

“That’s the problem with me continuing to play. I’m at a higher risk of getting one every time I get hit in the head.”

He learned that again in February. After an injury-filled 2011 season, Johnson entered training camp excited for another shot to make his mark in Portland. But a training camp concussion sidelined him again.

“At the worst they were pretty unbearable,” Johnson said about the symptoms he suffered through. “I was stuck indoors with the lights off, not enjoying life.”

He still has occasional headaches, but said medication can control those and doctors have told him those will go away eventually. Because he’s feeling better, stepping away from soccer is not easy, he said.

“It’s a shame that he gets his chance finally to get the top in Major League Soccer and his career is cut short by injury,” Spencer said. “I’m devastated for him and his family.”