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Exit Interview: Sean Johnson

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Our postseason evaluations begin with the Milkman, who suffered through indignities and a shifting backline with his chin up in 2016

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports
Sean Johnson, GK
6-ft-3, 217 lbs., 27 years old, born in Atlanta, GA
Drafted by the Fire No. 51 overall in the 2010 SuperDraft
MLSPU 2016 salary: $253,000
2015 stats
GP: 22  Minutes: 1980  Saves: 68  Goals against: 37  Clean sheets: 5
GA/90: 1.68  Saves/90: 3.09
Career stats
GP: 176  Minutes: 15816  Saves: 552  Goals against: 249  Clean sheets: 36
GA/90: 1.42  Saves/90: 3.14

Scouting report

No matter the form of the defense in front of him, Johnson remains one of the premier shot-stoppers in MLS, a league which isn't exactly short on keepers capable of the flashy bail-out save ... long arms and explosiveness allow him to get to shots that seem to have him beat ... that said, still is a guy who needs that cat-like quickness to bail out his sometimes-shaky positioning ... has grown as a leader, but the constantly-shifting and consistently terrible defenses in front of him seem to have stalled his mental progress ... his distribution is not as scattershot as it was when he was suddenly anointed as a rookie in 2010, but remains a weakness ... throws have improved markedly, but Johnson's inaccuracy with his feet means defenses play for the thrown outlet, limiting its usefulness

2016 review

If the Fire's 2016 locker room atmosphere was the equivalent of a mining disaster - and, sure, just pick a kind of disaster and let's roll with it, amirite? - then the treatment of Sean Johnson was the canary in the coal mine. Velko Paunovic began dropping hints that Johnson wasn't an automatic No. 1 early in preseason, musing on how important playing the ball out of the back through the keeper was in the modern game - elevating, in one interview, Johnson's most glaring weakness as a new necessity. The indignities continued for the one-time captain; as new keeper Matt Lampson showed little more propensity for possession football than Johnson had previously, Johnson dressed for one game only to learn that he wasn't included in the gameday 18.

When he did play, it was a mixed bag - but what does one expect from a player on a team that won 7 out of 34? The defense in front of him was constantly changing as the Paunovic tried to find a stable platform. Johnson's best stretch coincided with the Fire's best run of results - a narrow 1-0 loss at New England preceded a really creditable 2-2 draw against the then red-hot New York Red Bulls. After a game off - Lampson starting in a 3-1 drubbing at Salt Lake - Johnson anchored the Fire to points in three straight games, their only such stretch of the season. A pair of 2-2 home draws to Orlando and LA flanked the Fire's streak-breaking 3-0 road win in Montreal.

2017 outlook

After the way 2016 played out, it's hard to see a happy ending to Sean's time in Chicago. The Fire seem intent on playing Moneyball with the goalkeeping position, figuring that someone who's 90 percent of The Milkman's best, but takes up less than half as much space on the payroll is a solid deal.

Of course it's difficult to parse for those of us who've seen Sean blossom from a bouncy, slightly terrifying rookie, through some really hard times (the Olympic meltdown, a constantly depressing club trajectory), to become a leader. Soccer's a hard business.

Time will tell if Nelson Rodriguez is actually capable of turning proven talent into anything other than allocation money and promises. At this point, we expect Sean to be exposed in the upcoming MLS Expansion Draft, and to be a member of the Atlanta United when the 2017 season kicks off.