By FRANCO PANIZO
CHESTER, Pa. — Sean Johnson may be quietly piecing together one of the best seasons among goalkeepers in MLS this year, but not many people will point to that when asked about the year he is having. Rather, they will talk about the blunder he had in Olympic qualifying in March that cost the U.S. Under-23 men's national team a spot in the Summer Games; a botched block attempt in the final minute of second-half stoppage time that allowed El Salvador to tie and send the favored Americans out in group play.
It is a play that has been dissected from every angle, discussed ad nauseam by fans and media alike, and one of the most damning moments in Johnson's blossoming career. But it is also one that Johnson has long since gotten over.
Five months removed from the U.S. team's Olympic qualifying disaster, Johnson cannot recall how long it took for him to move on from that fateful moment, only that it happened quickly. In fact, the 23-year-old netminder had no problem sitting down in front of a television to take in the Olympics during the last few weeks.
"Some guys, it's tough to watch. You just got to look at it as a sporting event that you wish to be at and it's going on, but the past is the past," said Johnson. "Just watching it, I think the level was great this year. … Obviously, it's disappointing not being there but you watch the Olympics and that's when I knew, watching the Olympics and not getting down on myself and just watched it as a fan."
What Johnson has done since that spring night in Tennessee is start all but one game for the Chicago Fire, a team currently in the thick of things in the competitive Eastern Conference. The one match Johnson was on the bench for was the one immediately following Olympic qualifying, but he reclaimed the No. 1 spot that he had lost at the beginning of the year shortly therafter.
Now Johnson is playing at perhaps the highest level that he has shown in his young career. He has helped the Fire put together a strong string of results, losing just twice in their last 10 matches. All the meanwhile, he has been reminded that young goalkeepers do make mistakes, and though he acknowledges that fact, he does not want to use it as a crutch for poor performances.
"The last thing I want to do is make it an excuse for the way I play," said Johnson. "I train everyday to be the best I can be and if I'm called on as the No. 1 then it's my job to get the job done no matter how old I am. I think with age comes experience for sure, so I'm learning and becoming a better player over time. But at my age I want to make sure that I can be the best I can be and that my experience throughout my entire career I build and build and build."
Johnson was recently rewarded for his stellar form, earning a call-up from U.S. men's national team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann for the Mexico friendly. Johnson did not play nor did he dress for the Americans' Wednesday night match with Mexico, but he was part of the U.S. team that claimed a historic first win at Estadio Azteca.
"In this country we do have a lot of goalkeepers but when you're playing well, it's good to be rewarded," said Fire head coach Frank Klopas. "Sean has been playing very well and he's learning and getting better with every game. It's always an honor to get a call like that, to be recognized for the job you're doing on the field. It's good for him."
While the call-up may be serve as a good confidence-booster for Johnson, important times lie ahead for the youngster. The Fire are five points off of first place in the east but they are also five points away from falling out of the playoff picture with more than two months left in the regular season.
The onus for Johnson is now to continue to perform well in goal and help Chicago reach the postseason for the first time since 2009 and for the first time in his career. It is Johnson and the team's immediate goal and they are focused on achieving by continuing to rely on one another.
"Results are everything now," said Johnson. "We've got Eastern Conference games all the way out, we've to keep wining games. That's important. … The team carries each other. It's not about individuals all the time, it's about team collective effort. Some games other players get called upon to step up, myself, (Chris Rolfe), (Logan Pause), everybody plays a role in the season and we're doing a great job of getting results."
Not least because Johnson has moved on from a bitter moment in his career to become one of top goalkeepers currently plying his trade in MLS.