An errant bounce and the goal that led to the elimination of the US Men's Soccer team from Olympic competition seems like it occurred ages ago. Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson dealt with the disappointing outcome and the scrutiny that came as a result of that play in impressive fashion. He seemed to immediately accept the result and freely discussed the game and the ill-fated shot off the foot of El Salvador's Jaime Alas with each media outlet that requested an interview in the days following the match. He didn't hide from it or sulk in it's aftermath. Instead he confronted it head on and has seemingly used the experience to eventually round back into the form that earned him a USMNT call in the first place. That form has helped catapult the Fire into a solid playoff contender on the strength of outstanding goalkeeping efforts over the last two months highlighted by a spectacular ten save outing in San Jose two weeks ago.
After a recent training session, Johnson said that it took him a while to find his best form after the Olympic Qualifying loss and has pinpointed a time frame for his reversal of fortunes. "I think going back to the New England game (June 2) for me I felt good. It's just a matter of doing the right things every day," he said. The ten save performance in San Jose brought Johnson back into the national spotlight earning him MLS Team of the Week honors but his play had been exemplary for several weeks before that match. The 23 year old 'keeper credits much of his success to hard work but is also sure to mention the collaboration of teammates in aiding his success. "The last 5 or 6 games and maybe the last 8 or 9, I've been put into situations where I've had to make decisions and make saves for the team but there have been games like Houston where we did an excellent job and allowed maybe one shot on goal for the entire game. At different points in time every player has to step up and we have the confidence to step out there with the best of them," said Johnson.
"I've worked hard all season and the guys in front of me have done a good job as well. In the last handful of games we've needed players to step up at different times and my name has been called on the last few games," he said of the recent success. "Jalil, Austin, and Arne have all switched around in the back so it's a team effort and that's what's going to get us into the playoffs this year. We don't have the one person like Wondo or any of those guys whose output is singlehandedly keeping their team in games. We've been more of a collective unit and that's how we're going to be successful this season," said Johnson.
The San Jose match featured a variety of acrobatic, spectacular stops that allowed the club to pick up a valuable point on the road against the top team in MLS but Johnson wasn't particularly satisfied with the result. "I take every goal that teams score very personally including that last one in San Jose. We battled tirelessly for 98 minutes and we come away without three points after fighting that hard," he said while reflecting on the late equalizer.
After being away from the club for most of training camp and missing the first three matches of the season while he competed in US Olympic qualifiers, Johnson needed some time to adjust to picking up more minutes as a starter. DC 'keeper Bill Hamid was getting most of the first team minutes and Johnson came into the El Salvador match as an injury substitution. Johnson again credits his teammates and the technical staff for helping in the transition. "It's one of those things where you're gone for a long time but you come back in and the guys make it easy for you to get adjusted. For myself, I wasn't fully fit until maybe a month and half after I came back," said Johnson. "Whether it was on the field or off the field it took me about a month and a half to get to where I wanted to be and needed to be personally. Just getting back to the groove and getting back into that mindset with the physical aspect and the mental aspect where everything is rolling is something I just had to keep going," he continued.
The huge effort in San Jose was followed up by a quieter night against Toronto FC but Johnson still managed to come up big just before the half-time whistle. Another big stop on Luis Silva's stoppage time shot prevented the Fire from facing a 2-0 deficit at home this past Saturday night. "One game doesn't define a season, we have to make sure that we keep working as a goalkeeping unit. Not just myself but Aron (Hyde), Jay (Nolly), and Paolo (Tornaghi) in order to keep the level of goalkeeper where it is, it's going to take work from everybody," said Johnson.
The Fire 'keeper is definitely in one of those zones that athletes reference when playing at top form. When asked if he feels that he's in a state of mind where he believes he can stop any shot Johnson replied, "To be honest with you that's the way it has to be every game. That's got to be your mindset in every single game."