BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – In all probability, the debate for Chicago Fire's 2013 MVP award will be open and shut: Mike Magee's candidacy for the league's Golden Boot and MVP honors makes him the shoo-in for that award.
But however huge Magee's contributions have been, Jeff Larentowicz seems to think another MVP candidate lurks in the Fire's goal, where he made eight saves last Friday in a 3-0 win over D.C. United.
“It's funny, because people talk about MVPs on our team, and obviously Mike's scored a ton of goals, and he's been very consistent, but there's so many games, when we draw, lose, Sean [Johnson] is always there,” Larentowicz told MLSsoccer.com. “I think he's really had an outstanding year. It's funny because the numbers do not show it, but I think that he bails us out a lot.”
Johnson's numbers certainly haven't been staggering this season, especially before Friday's standout performance, when he was in the middle of the pack in terms of save percentage, goals against average, shutouts, and most basic goalkeeping stats.
But last Saturday, some of those statistics began to tip in Johnson's favor. He's now the league leader in save percentage at 72.4 percent after shutting out D.C., when he made a several diving stops and a few more kick saves to keep the hosts off the scoreboard.
Johnson wouldn't heap praise on himself or even acknowledge that Friday's game was one of his best, but teammates certainly did. His contributions, Patrick Nyarko said, have gone beyond the acrobatic saves.
“I think that's clearly the best game he's played in his short career,” Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com. “It was incredible. Incredible is an understatement in how he performed that day ... His maturity has been unbelievable, and he understands when to calm the game for us, when to speed up the game for us. His leadership is very visible. We see how he commands the defenders, and it just transcends through everyone.”
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The shutout was only Chicago's second since June 2, and Larentowicz thinks that's overshadowed Johnson's performances this season.
The Fire didn't concede a late goal or drop the clean sheet when it was in their grasp. And finally, Johnson received the praise that his teammates think he deserves.
“It was good that it was finally shown in a game where we don't give up a goal, where we win, we win on the road, and he can take the accolades because he deserves it, he deserves it a lot this year,” Larentowicz said.
“Unfortunately, we either haven't scored to give him the opportunity to enjoy the saves he makes or won games, so Saturday was a perfect example where he deserves a lot, if not all of the credit.”