There was always a sneaking suspicion that Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson might get a game during the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Whether behind Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, or in this tournament Nick Rimando, Johnson has had to bide his time for his chances in the U.S. goal.
Sure enough, his first cap in a competitive match came in Friday’s 1-0 Gold Cup group finale win over Costa Rica in East Hartford, Conn.
“I found out the day before and I just felt it was a good opportunity,” Johnson said from U.S. camp Wednesday. “It was great to be in goal and help the team win the group and go into the next quarterfinal with momentum. We wanted to do that and send a message. “
Most eyes were on Johnson to see how he’d perform in his first competitive match for the Stars & Stripes and the Fire ‘keeper didn’t disappoint, commanding his box well and making two saves to earn a clean sheet in the victory.
Johnson’s second save also led to the game’s only goal. In the 82nd minute, Costa Rica’s Carlos Johnson snapped a header at the back post that forced an incredible save out of the Fire netminder.
The ball was cleared and Joe Corona played Landon Donovan up the right before the long-time U.S. international played a perfect ball for Brek Shea who finished to clinch the win.
“A play like that just the goalkeeper you want to be,” he said. “You want to be able to make huge saves at crucial points in the game and just do your job when you’re called upon. I was able to get across and make a save to keep my team in it and then we went forward. It’s a great team goal and great team effort on the night.”
Asked for his thoughts on Johnson's performance Tuesday night, Fire head coach Frank Klopas said, "I was happy. I called him and he had a great performance. I’m happy for Sean because he played in a game like that and I thought he was huge and contributed to the team’s success."
It remains to be seen whether Johnson will continue his run in the U.S. goal but it seems likely Rimando will return to the net for Saturday’s quarterfinal match vs. El Salvador in Baltimore.
Away from the Fire since July 1, Johnson said he’s paid close attention to the team despite missing their last three matches, the last two of which the team dropped 2-1 vs. Sporting KC and 3-1 at Vancouver.
“I think the team has done a great job and unfortunately we dropped a couple of results but I think we’re still playing good soccer and we’ve got a lot of games in a short amount of time.
“I’m confident we’ll get back on track. We have the ability and depth in our team to get results. I’ve talked to a lot of guys back at home and there’s a confidence that we lacked earlier in the year that we have now to go out and take games. I think it’ll take one result to turn things back around and get things back on track.”
Should the U.S. go all the way to the Gold Cup final on July 28 at Soldier Field, Johnson won’t make his Fire return until an August 3 match against Philadelphia.