As the longest tenured Fire player on the current roster, Sean Johnson's days in Chicago may be over. Then again, they might not be.
Johnson was named the 2016 Supporters' Player of the Year as voted on by fans. Johnson and Section 8 Chicago donated $1000 to Matt Lampson's LampStrong Foundation which aids in the support of cancer patients. During a speech on Saturday afternoon at the Globe Pub, the veteran goalkeeper told those in attendance that he didn't know what the future held for him at the moment.
The Fire officially have eight players under contract for 2017 (Accam, Arshakyan, de Leeuw, Fernandez, Kappelhof, Goossens, Harrington, Meira) and three others whose options have been renewed but not announced yet (Polster, Campbell, Vincent). Most of the remaining players on the roster have yet to learn their fate, including Johnson whose option likely contains an increase on his $250,000 annual salary in 2016.
His departure isn't completely assured but it doesn't seem likely that Fire brass is eager to assume that much budget-space for Johnson in 2017. Speculation about a return to his home in Georgia to play for expansion team Atlanta United FC make sense, even more so now that former Fire goalkeeper's coach Aron Hyde has been hired to the same position there, but he'd need either a trade or selection in the Expansion Draft in order to land there.
The league will open up for trades on December 11 for a brief period before the Expansion Draft on December 13. The list of protected players and players eligible for free agency will be published on December 12. Each team can protect 11 players and Homegrown Players are not available for selection. The Fire could theoretically decide to protect Johnson if they feel Atlanta would prefer to select him rather than give something up for him - assuming Atlanta will take him.
There's still posturing and jockeying to be done before December 12 but the Fire's longest tenured player and the individual that Michael de Leeuw referred to as the "only big leader" on the team doesn't know for sure where he'll be next year. Johnson will turn 28 next May, but with only 7 years experience in the league he won't qualify for true free agency under MLS's 28/8 rule until 2018. If the Fire don't exercise his option and Atlanta doesn't take him in the Expansion Draft there's still a chance he could wind up there via the Re-Entry Draft on December 16.
The Fire's big focus at the moment seems to be the pursuit of Bastian Schweinsteiger but there are other important decisions to be made within the next few weeks.
— Jeff Crandall (@jefecrandall) November 20, 2016