Johnson, 32, has struggled with retirement, he freely admits, being forced from his profession by a heart condition revealed during the 2014 MLS playoffs.

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Former Sounder Eddie Johnson retains the skills and persona that made him one of the most feared — and controversial — forwards in Major League Soccer and beyond.

Playing in Steve Zakuani’s charity match — which featured former U.S. national-team members Landon Donovan and Oguchi Onyewu — on Sunday in Tukwila, Johnson netted a hat trick and vented his frustration at bemused teammates.

Speaking at a pho restaurant in Bellevue a few days later, he was as candid and outspoken as ever.

Johnson, 32, has struggled with retirement, he freely admits, being forced from his profession by a heart condition revealed during the 2014 MLS playoffs.

A coaching career in its early stages has brought some peace. Lingering resentment, however — over how his career ended, how MLS handled what he concedes was a complicated situation — remains.

“It’s like anything in life; when you lose something … it hurts,” Johnson said, leaning forward over a bowl of broth. “It takes a while for that pain to go away. This has been my livelihood. This is what made me who I am. To have it taken away from me, and retiring not on my terms, that was very difficult.

“I became really selfish. … I was really having a hard time accepting what was going on.”

Shortly afterward, Johnson perks back up, his smile returns. The conversation winds like this throughout: touching on tender grievances before settling on something more positive, the only constant an underlying passion he was known for as a player.

Johnson refers to coaching and youth development as his “true calling,” and he has been conducting training sessions at Hyper Elite Training in Orlando.

“Everyone has a beginning and a due date,” Johnson said. “Sometimes, the Lord will take away something to open things up for you in the long run. … This is probably the most settled that I’ve been since retirement.”

‘Out of the blue’

Johnson’s due date came during the 2014 Eastern Conference semifinal series between his D.C. United and the New York Red Bulls, when he woke up one night with numbness in one of his arms.

Though there was speculation that the Sounders — or his English clubs before that — knew more about Johnson’s health issues than they’d let on when they traded Johnson to D.C., he dismissed it this week.

“It was just something that came out of the blue,” he said. “All my career, I passed every physical.”

Johnson spent that night in a hospital but was cleared to play in the second leg of the series — with the promise that he’d return for further tests after the season.

D.C. won the match 2-1 but was eliminated on aggregate, and Johnson did not play again. Those tests revealed what is known as “athlete’s heart syndrome,” an enlarged heart that rests at a lower rate than usual. He retired last May.

“I wish I could go back,” Johnson said. “I wish I could have given more in those two games. … I didn’t play those last two games like they were my last.”

Asked whether he had any similar regrets about his Sounders tenure — when he angled for a new contract by mouthing “pay me” during a goal celebration, for example — Johnson was less wistful.

“I don’t regret anything,” Johnson said. “(But) I wish I could have done things differently. A lot of people on the outside only see what’s going on on the pitch. They don’t know what goes on behind closed doors. I was dealing with a lot — personal issues, and also things within the organization that were promised to me.

“I risked a lot and sacrificed a lot and broke a lot of relationships in order to come to Seattle. I put a lot on the line.”

Again, though, he gradually circles back to positivity.

“I feel like there’s more good than bad,” Johnson said. “Some people meet ‘the one’ and they put a ring on it after a month. Sometimes it doesn’t work, and they go their own way. My two years here, it was a two-year relationship.

“I thank the Sounders for giving me the opportunity to keep pursuing my dreams. Out of my career, it was probably the best team I played for, club-wise.”

Contract issues remain

Johnson still has designs on one day working within U.S. Soccer or MLS, even though a rift remains.

“I don’t want to burn any bridges,” Johnson said. “But I’ve seen that, being nice, people sometimes take kindness for weakness. I guess I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do to feed my family. I’ve got a family to take care of, so whatever it takes to make sure I get what I’m owed, I’m going to do that.”

Johnson says he has issues with the way his league contract was structured, and without providing specifics made it clear there are unresolved issues being sorted out more than a year later.

“What I’ve learned through all of this is that you work for a business,” Johnson said. “We play for the Sounders or D.C. United, but we’re still owned by the league. Once you can no longer be fit to do service for your company, it’s a business. They move on. It’s one of the things that I expected, but it still hurts at the end of the day.”

Johnson’s legacy would have been complicated even if his career hadn’t been cut short.

Johnson was one of the youngest and brightest American stars to have signed with MLS at the time but was eventually outshone by other players of his generation, such as Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley. Johnson played for four European clubs but didn’t manage one goal while with English Premier League team Fulham.

He appeared in two matches at the 2006 World Cup but was a late cut in 2010. He scored the goal that locked up qualification for Brazil 2014 but didn’t make the trip.

“I always played with passion,” Johnson said. “I always went out to prove a point. I didn’t settle for mediocrity. … Sometimes being over-passionate and playing with too many emotions gets misperceived. I hope fans looked at me and went, ‘That’s the guy I wanted on my team.’

“How I want people to perceive me now is everything that I’ve always been.”