Sean Johnson: “Best point total and all that goes out the window if you can’t make anything of it.” (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
QUEENS, N.Y. — New York City FC’s elimination from the MLS Cup Playoffs was one bitter pill to swallow for goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
He just came off one of his best, if not the best games of the Major League Soccer season. In the first half alone, the 30-year-old keeper made four spectacular saves to keep City in the game at Citi Field.
As well as he played, Johnson wasn’t a miracle worker and gave up two goals in what turned into a distressing 2-1 defeat in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“It’s tough to find words right now,” he said. “The emotions are still pretty fresh in a game where it’s everything to play for. We simply weren’t good enough today. I think you look at the course of the game. We start off with 45 minutes and we’re lucky we escape with 0-0 at halftime. We didn’t show up with the right energy, the right focus.”
Johnson refused to blame any of his teammates for both Toronto FC’s goals, even though they were dreadful mistakes.
“Mistakes happen, but I think it’s a collective,” he said. “In big games and in big moments we’ve got to show up. That’s the name of the game in the playoffs and fighting for each other. I think for 90 minutes Toronto did what they had to do to get the lead twice. It’s disappointing because you put so much into a long year.”
NYCFC won its first conference title with an impressive 18-6-10 record and 58 points. Many members of the media, pundits, observers and fans were pointing toward a possible MLS Cup match-up with Supporters Shield winner Los Angeles Football Club Nov. 10.
“Thirty-four game season, postseason, international breaks, Open Cup, all that jazz, first place in the East, best point total and all that goes out the window if you can’t make anything of it,” Johnson said. “Off-season’s here and it’s a harsh reality for a lot of guys who haven’t experienced that yet. And for those who were here last year, it’s a repeat. I said it last year, it wasn’t good enough. We did all we did to come back this year to make things better, but we fell short again. So, no lack of support all year from the fans. They were incredible and spurred us on until the very last minute of the game. So, for that I’m thankful.”
Still, NYCFC can’t get over the hump in the playoffs. After missing the postseason in its first year in 2015, City has booked a spot there four consecutive times. And every time the club has exited in the first round in which has competed.
In fact, NYCFC is 1-6 in seven playoff matches as it has been outscored, 17-5. It also been eliminated by Toronto FC twice, including by a 7-0 aggregate in 2016.
Since it received a first-round bye, City had a 17-day break from matches. Toronto FC, on the other hand, was coming off a 120-minute affair, a 5-1 extratime win over D.C. United Saturday.
“To be honest I don’t think we can make any excuse whether it was the amount we had,” he said. “Not playing any meaningful games in that time period, you can write the narrative any way you want, but at the end of the day, you have to take responsibility as players. We worked hard enough to put ourselves in that position and with that position comes responsibility to take care of business when the moment comes up. I think you can go around the room and ask any player and I don’t think they’ll put it down to anything that happened in the last week and a half, two weeks. For us, the moment was now, and it wasn’t good enough for a team to go out the way we did and now we’re looking at another offseason.”