As convincing as the Chicago Fire attack was Tuesday in the U.S. Open Cup Round of 16, the Men In Red also were the beneficiaries of several moments of brilliance by goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
Charlotte Independence striker Ryan Finley came on as a substitute in the second half Tuesday at Toyota Park and found two point-blank chances that looked to be sure goals. Both times, Johnson pulled off spectacular saves, leaving Finley dumbfounded with his hands on his head.
“Sean Johnson was outstanding tonight,” Fire head coach Frank Yallop stated matter-of-factly after the match.
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It was a totally different scenario for Johnson than in Chicago's first U.S. Open Cup game against Louisville City FC. In that match, the 26-year-old wasn’t asked to do much at all, even as the match remained deadlocked into extra time. But on Tuesday, there were a couple occasions when his quality was called upon to preserve a 3-1 Fire win.
As Kevin Egan discusses in this week's edition of Fire Field Vision, the veteran of 160 career matches with the Fire has looked in top form since being reinserted in the Starting XI following a five-game absence. In three games, he's allowed only two goals, neither of which could be considered his fault. And despite conceding the opener against Charlotte, Johnson and the Fire fought back to claim victory.
“In those moments, you’ve got to have true character in going down 1-0 early on and battling back,” he said. “Ultimately coming into the second half and being dominant in the second half, we’re learning what things we can and cannot do in matches. I think that’s the most important thing is being able to learn from experiences like yesterday and be on the winning end of things instead of the losing end.”
With the Fire in search of their first MLS win since May 30, Johnson and his teammates were pleased with Tuesday's Open Cup effort. Coming out on top can be a big boost, both for the team as a whole and for Johnson, who has certainly found his form.
“It’s all the same,” Johnson said. “I think performances, regardless of what team you’re playing, provide confidence. … Any performance – doesn’t matter if it’s Open Cup or a friendly – any performances like that can prove vital going into league play.”