The relationship of Sean Johnson with the Chicago Fire has been nothing if not amicable: After signing as a fourth-round draft pick in 2010, the redoubtable Milkman has made himself a fixture on the team sheet, a borderline national-team player, and a Fire fan favorite. But into every life some rain must fall, and this offseason marks an important crossroads in the Johnson-Fire relationship. Johnson's original contract expires at year's end, and, though Chicago hold an option to extend the deal for one further year, the time for a decision is here now.
Johnson's ascent to national-team status means new gaffer Frank Yallop must decide now how to handle the contract. CSN Chicago's Len Ziehm is reporting that SeanJohn is already considering his options vis-a-vis moving to Europe. Should the Fire merely exercise their option, extending Johnson's deal through 2014, the Georgia native will be free to sign a precontract with any club in the world on July 1. In other words, we've groomed a borderline national-team prospect, and if we don't extend his contract, we're essentially renting him for the next year.
There's a lot of moving parts here. How anxious is Johnson to move? How willing is the front office to work to move him? It's not uncommon, in situations like this, for the player to sign a reasonable extension - in Johnson's case, say $250k/year for three years - with a private understanding that the club will sell him when a good offer comes in. (Of course, these agreements can become acrimonious later, as a club and player may not see eye-to-eye about what constitutes a "good offer.")
Lost in the terrible defensive showing by Chicago this season was just how bad it could've been, sans Johnson. Always an elite shot-stopper, Johnson's decision-making and strength in the air have steadily improved during his four seasons with the club. It's just possible that all this worry could be for nothing - Johnson's only 24, and could conceivably spend another two or three years in Chicago before a big-money move. But the pay scale of most European leagues absolutely dwarfs what MLS can offer, and athletes are always one freak injury away from retirement.
Something about the prospect of losing Johnson fills me with dread, frankly. I suppose it's inevitable; it's not like we're going to blow a DP spot on a keeper, since even a decent draftee would offer 85% of what Johnson does essentially for free. I'm curious if anyone else feels that way. If you were Yallop, what would you do?