Chicago Fire goalie Sean Johnson misses a goal by Toronto FC's Jackson Goncalves during the first half of an MLS soccer game in Bridgeview, Ill., Wednesday, July 2, 2014. The game ended in a 1-1 tie. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson and coach Frank Yallop had a talk about three or four games ago. Both termed the meeting as positive, and Yallop complimented Johnson’s performance up to that point behind a struggling team. But Yallop also challenged his goalie to play better and to take his game up another notch.
Johnson has responded to that challenge.
Entering Saturday night’s game against the Philadelphia Union (5-8-7, 22 points), Johnson is one of MLS’ hottest goalies. Over his last three league games, Johnson’s allowed only two goals and saved 16 shots. His stop of Chris Tierney’s 85th minute penalty kick last Saturday secured the 1-0 win for the Fire (3-4-10, 19 points) over New England and also his second MLS shutout of the season.
“I wanted to really be dominant as far as my presence, my handling, my positioning, my aggression, my communication. All that,” Johnson said. “Just take that to the next level, so I think bringing every part of my game up is really helped the team and really helped myself to get better as well.”
Johnson said that before the meeting with Yallop he thought he was playing well. He liked his consistency compared to last season and thought he was showing improvement from 2013 when he had six shutouts.
But Johnson also appreciated Yallop’s words and needed to hear them – that he was playing well but there was still more he could do to realize his potential.
“Sometimes just that extra push, whether it is positive like the talk with Frank was or if it’s negative, light a bit of a fire under you,” Johnson said. “Any way that you can get that extra push and that extra challenge to be better whether it comes from competition or if it comes from communication from a coach it’s great. I welcome it any day.”
Johnson is only 25 – relatively young for a top-level goalie – and still has room to grow. That’s part of what Yallop discussed with Johnson, that his best days are still ahead of him and that his growth could eventually take him to the highest rungs of the sport like the English Premier League or other top divisions in Europe.
To do that, Johnson would need a springboard of top-level play in the MLS. He’s done that recently and shown a response to the chat that’s impressed Yallop, who said he would struggle to find another goalkeeper playing better in the league.
“That’s good for him,” Yallop said. “And for us.”
NOTE: Yallop said newly signed midfielder Razvan Cocis will hopefully be available to play a few minutes during the July 26 friendly against Tottenham Hotspur.