With Howard Out, Johnson ready to step up for USMNT

Will Sean Johnson have to step up for the USMNT in Tim Howard's absence? - Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

USMNT starting goalkeeper Tim Howard recently injured his back while playing for his club. In his absence, could Fire 'keeper Sean Johnson play a bigger role for his country?

To someone only looking at goals allowed, Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson isn't off to the best start to the 2013 MLS season. However, looking at the five goals Johnson had allowed in the club's first two games, none of them were even remotely gaffes on his part. In fact, if not for a couple of big saves in the Fire's 4-0 loss to the LA Galaxy, the score could have been even more lopsided.

But the 23-year-old ‘keeper, now in his fourth year with the club, believes the team isn't far away from making a breakthrough. "We'll just get back to practice this week and keep working and grinding out and we're prepared to do that," he said after the club's 1-0 loss to the New England Revolution on Saturday night.

After a disappointing performance with the United States Men's National Team's U-23 Olympic squad last year, Johnson stepped up his game with the Fire and is now considered one of the top young goalkeepers in the country along with Aston Villa's Brad Guzan (now age 28), DC United's Bill Hamid (22) and the Houston Dynamo's Tally Hall (27).

And it appears Johnson is now firmly in USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann's plans. After getting his first cap in January 2011, he now has three in total after starting in the Nats' friendly with Canada this past January. He was also on the bench for their recent 2-1 loss to Honduras in World Cup qualifying.

The USMNT is next in action on March 22 when they host Costa Rica in the Denver area. But with 34-year-old starting goalkeeper Tim Howard recently suffering a back injury while playing for club side Everton of the English Premier League, it appears he will not be available for that match or the match at Mexico on March 26.

Johnson said he feels for Howard, who has been the country's starting ‘keeper since Kasey Keller retired shortly after the 2006 World Cup.

"It's a difficult one for Tim, I feel for him because he's a player who weathers everything," he said. "He's a friend of mine as well, so I checked on him right after the game to see if he was okay."

Johnson says he believes Howard's loss will hurt, but that the other goalies in the mix should be enough to help the team pick up some critical points.

"I think we have players that are quality enough to get us through," he said. "Tim's a great player, but I think we're capable of getting the job done as well. Myself, Brad Guzan, Billy (Bill Hamid), Tally (Hall), the guys in the mix are more than capable of getting that done."

It appears Guzan is the temporary #1 ‘keeper, but Johnson says he'll help the team in any way he can.

"To be honest, whatever happens will happen," he said.

Lindpere also out for international duty?

It appears Johnson won't be the only player with international obligations coming up.

Chicago-Fire.com Editor Jeff Crandall tweeted yesterday that midfielder Joel Lindpere could be called up for Estonia's upcoming World Cup qualifiers. The offseason acquisition could be gone for the Sinisärgid matches against the Netherlands on March 22 and Andorra on March 26.

Lindpere has made 84 appearances for his country and is a regular starter. If he is called up, he will certainly miss the Fire's March 24 matchup with Chivas USA. As Crandall mentioned, if Logan Pause isn't completely healed from injury, Daniel Paladini may have to fill that defensive midfield role for that match (against his old club no less).

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