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Report: Fire deal Sean Johnson to Atlanta United

Men in Red begin their annual pursuit of allocation money by dealing fan favorite to expansion club

New England Revolution v Chicago Fire
Farewell, Sean

Veteran MLS scribe Sam Stejskal is reporting the news that everyone expected yet no one hoped for: Stalwart Chicago Fire goalkeeper is on his way out of the CF97 locker room, traded to new expansion side Atlanta United for, in Stejskal’s words, “allocation money.”

If Johnson’s time with the Men in Red is truly over, he leaves with his dignity intact, if not entirely his once-burgeoning reputation. Over 176 MLS starts for the Fire, Johnson posted 36 shutouts, but his progress from freakish shot-stopper to complete keeper seemed to stall over recent seasons, as he struggled to pull together ever-shifting defenses in front of him.

The deal will leave Chicago with one keeper - surprise 2016 opening-day starter Matt Lampson - on the roster.

Hot (Time) take

As terms for the deal are unlikely to ever be announced, we don’t have enough data to evaluate this deal in terms of the Fire’s roster-building effort for 2017. It’s clear that, for whatever reason, Johnson never really had the confidence of Velko Paunovic and Nelson Rodriguez. If they’re right, then it’s possible to squint and say, gee, I guess maybe that’s a place where we’re spending more than we’re getting.

The idea that this is a bit of moneyball management are immediately beggared by the news - also dropped today through Paul Tenorio, another journalist with Fire connections - that Chicago native Brad Guzan is ‘exploring a return to MLS.’ If saving at the goalkeeping position is the idea, then the acquisition of Guzan - essentially a more-accomplished, older version of Johnson - at upwards of twice the cost makes zero sense.

Which leaves us with the idea that Paunovic simply didn’t think Johnson was as good as Fire supporters - who named the keeper 2016 Supporters Player of the Year - clearly do. Guzan certainly has had stretches during his career that suggest he could be an MLS Best XI level keeper for a few years yet. Unfortunately, those stretches haven’t been ... recent.

Decisions like this one - abandoning a possibly-limited fan favorite in favor of a high-priced repatriation project - are what front office leadership is judged upon. If it works - if Guzan returns to the form he showed in 2012-14, if the defense gels in front of him (buoyed by his range and command!), if his slashing goal kicks are setting David Accam free in behind - then it’s hugs all ‘round. But if it doesn’t work - if it’s basically an even trade, one great shot-stopper with erratic fundamentals for another - then don’t expect everyone to be excited that we’ve just traded The Milkman for The Artisanal Organic Milkman.

One mitigating factor is Guzan’s Chicago roots. It’s the Official Opinion of this blog that paying professional soccer players who are Chicagoans to play for the badge is a Good Thing.