KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Eddie Johnson is scoring again for the U.S. national team, leaving the Kansas City Wizards without their star forward for the heart of their schedule.
Johnson scored Saturday in the United States' 2-0 victory over Trinidad and Tobago in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. When he returns next month from playing in that tournament and the Copa America, he will find the same offensive-minded team he left behind.
"We're not a team that plays well dropping off the ball, so we're not going to do that,'' coach Curt Onalfo said Friday at the team's practice facility in Overland Park, Kan. "We're going to be a team that pushes up the field and employs the same tactics we've used from day one.''
That approach has yielded 19 goals, tied with New York for most in Major League Soccer - although the Red Bulls, who lead Kansas City by one point in the Eastern Conference standings, have played 10 games to the Wizards' nine. Johnson leads the league with nine goals, six of them in his last two games - the first back-to-back hat tricks since MLS began play in 1996.
"From our perspective, we didn't expect anything less,'' technical director Peter Vermes said. "Maybe we didn't expect him to get two hat tricks in a row, but we expected him to be extremely dangerous this season. He's got too much talent not to be.''
Commitments with the national team could keep Johnson tied up through mid-July, when the Copa America - South America's confederation championship - wraps up. The United States is playing as a guest in that tournament, which starts June 26 in Venezuela.
The United States faces Argentina on June 28 - just four days after the title game for the Gold Cup, which is the regional championship for North America, Central America and the Caribbean. The United States, which is hosting the tournament, is a strong contender to reach the championship round in Chicago.
Johnson was a second-half substitute when the U.S. opened Gold Cup play on Thursday with a 1-0 victory over Guatemala. At 2-0, the Americans have already qualified for the quarterfinals.
The Americans have a tougher draw in the Copa America, following Argentina with matches against Paraguay on July 2 and Colombia on July 5. Even if the U.S. doesn't make it out of pool play, that still leaves the Wizards without Johnson for at least five MLS matches, four of them against other Eastern Conference teams.
It doesn't leave them without other scoring threats, though.
"People think, with the fact that Eddie scored six goals in two games, that we're a one-man team,'' Onalfo said. "We're not.''
Forward Scott Sealy led Kansas City with 10 goals last season and is returning to full speed after being hampered by an ankle injury, and versatile forward-midfielder Davy Arnaud has two goals this year after scoring eight in 2006.
"Davy Arnaud could have seven goals by now, maybe even eight,'' Onalfo said. "He's creating a lot of chances. He's certainly a guy we expect to step up during Eddie's time away from our team.''
The Wizards also expected to lose U.S. defender Jimmy Conrad for both tournaments and Sealy, who plays for Trinidad and Tobago, for the Gold Cup. Like Sealy, Conrad has missed several MLS matches with injuries.
"Eddie did a very good job in our first nine games, obviously,'' said Sealy, who has one goal in three matches for the Wizards this year. "But I think it's been a trend for us all season to show this team's depth. I think it's going to be the same thing with Eddie gone. We're going to miss that speed up top, but at the same time we have some other guys who can step in and score goals.''
Nine players have scored for the Wizards so far this year, with forwards accounting for 13 of their 19 goals. But anyone on the team is a threat to score, Arnaud said.
"If your team's winning, it doesn't matter where your goals come from,'' he said. "Everybody's going to be confident and feel like they can create chances.''