Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan and Sean Johnson after NYCFC was eliminated from the playoffs. (Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Once upon a time Sean Johnson was considered among the elite among the next generation of U.S. goalkeepers.
He was on the U.S. Under-23 team that failed to qualify for the 2012 Summer Olympics. But whether it was injuries, inconsistent performance or just plain bad luck, the New York City FC goalkeeper had few opportunities to prove himself internationally.
Well, the 29-year-old Johnson will get an opportunity to do so at head coach Gregg Berhalter’s first national team training camp in Chula Vista, Calif. January as the keeper was among four goalkeepers called into camp.
Berhalter explained why he decided to take another look at the veteran. Johnson last represented the USA in a game in 2013 and was last called into the squad for the 2017 Concacaf Gold Cup, although he saw no action in that competition.
“It was more from seeing his transformation from his playing with his feet,” Berhalter said during a media conference call Thursday morning. “I think that was the most important thing. We were able to play against him in Chicago a lot and we saw him not being that comfortable with his feet.”
Then Johnson was traded to NYCFC prior to the 2016 season at the start of head coach Patrick Vieira’s 2 1/2-year tenure.
“When Patrick took over and brought him in, he really improved, and it was that improvement that intrigued me. I think when you see a player at that age still able to improve in his game and make progress and develop, that’s exciting.”
Johnson happens to be the oldest of four keepers heading to camp, along with Toronto FC’s Alex Bono (24), Los Angeles FC’s Tyler Miller (25) and Columbus’ Zack Steffen (23), who will join Manchester City (England) next summer.
Veteran Brad Guzan (34) was not called in as Berhalter wanted to give him some much-needed time off after Atlanta United went deep in the MLS Cup Playoffs and captured the league title.
Berhalter added that he also has two other keepers on his radar — D.C. United’s Bill Hamid and Sporting Kansas City’s Tim Melia, an East Islip High School graduate.
“Those are guys that had very good years and will remain in consideration as well,” he said.