With the Olympics in full swing, watching the soccer hasn’t been quite as enjoyable without the U.S. Men participating. A lot has been written since the 3-3 draw with El Salvador in late March, with so much of the blame for the final goal falling on Sean Johnson’s shoulders.
Coming back into the Fire, Johnson didn’t immediately earn back the starting job. When he did, there were a few shaky moments here and there as he worked to gain back confidence from the disappointment.
As this article from Brian Straus mentions, through it all, he faced down the same questions about the qualifying disappointment time after time, using the adversity to make him a better goalkeeper.
Enter the summer months and Johnson has been one of the key reasons for the team’s record just over halfway through the season.
While Saturday night ended as a draw, with many including myself scratching our heads over the amount of stoppage given, it’s easy to forget that had Johnson not made a career high 10 saves in the match, it could have 3 or 4-1 by the time Lenhart struck the ball in the 98th minute.
Johnson’s display caused former teammate and current Earthquakes ‘keeper Jon Busch to say, “I thought Sean was awesome tonight. Full credit has to go to him, he kept them in the game tonight with save after save. We would have had a couple more if it weren’t for him. He has a bright future ahead of him; he is a future senior national team goalkeeper and I told him that. He was fantastic”
While San Jose head coach Frank Yallop exclaimed, “I’ve not seen a performance like that in a long time, live or on TV.”
Johnson’s play of late reminds me of what manager Graeme Souness said about Brad Friedel’s performances for the “punch above their weight” Blackburn Rovers sides of the early 2000’s: “Brad Friedel is worth 12-15 points a season for us.”
One could easily make the case that Johnson has been the same for the Fire since the beginning of June, putting in excellent displays against New York, Columbus, Kansas City, Vancouver and Saturday night in San Jose.
“Every goal that goes in the back of my net is my responsibility and that’s the way I see it,” Johnson said in the Straus article. “I take pride in what I do. You determine your own destiny as a goalkeeper…One mistake can change the game for our team. We take it on our shoulders when we sign up for the job.”
Every American goalkeeper that’s had success has faced adversity at some point in their career.
Despite his obvious talent, Friedel went through a spell of being denied a work permit in England. Kasey Keller often had to win the starting job at whatever club he went to. Tim Howard went through the roller coaster ride that was his time at Manchester United.
All three went on to play for the United States in World Cups and have set the standard for the next generation of ‘keepers to shoot for.
Johnson appears to have followed their example in turning what could have been a career defining moment into one that has only made him stronger.