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Pauno's Ponderings: Campbell is USMNT prospect

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Fire coach Veljko Paunovic held his weekly media call Monday and discussed a number of issues including the injury situation, Jonathan Campbell's performance Saturday and the goalkeeping situation.

Jonathan Campbell, who had a great game Saturday, could be a USMNT prospect.
Jonathan Campbell, who had a great game Saturday, could be a USMNT prospect.
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said Monday that he sees a U.S. Men's National Team future for Jonathan Campbell.

Was that the biggest nugget of news from Monday's media call? I don't know. But it was an answer to a question I asked and I like to toot my own horn so I lead with that.

I already talked about how much I loved Campbell's performance in my post-game wrap-up from Saturday's 0-0 draw with the Columbus Crew. The rookie was dominant and visibly productive in keeping a clean sheet intact. His performance was not overlooked as he won the SBI Rookie of the Week.

Campbell was not bad in his first two appearances but he looked like a seasoned veteran overnight on Saturday. If he can duplicate that play -- and I honestly don't know if he can -- then he is a legitimate MLS Rookie of the Year contender.

So it was great to hear Paunovic says he thinks Campbell has a USMNT future, especially as two of his teammates join the U-23 squad for some important matches to qualify for the Olympics. Campbell is 22 years old, so he technically could have qualified for this recent call-up, but was beat out by the likes of Matt Miazga, Tim Parker and others.

It will be a hard row to hoe for Campbell who will need to overtake the likes of Jurgen Klinsmann favorites Ventura Alvarado and Steve Birnbaum as well as seasoned veterans like Omar Gonzales and Matt Besler. But the fact Paunovic sees that kind of potential in Campbell is promising.

Campbell's play has been a pleasant surprise to me. I usually watch four to five college soccer games a year and they are always in tournaments, either conference or national. I never saw Campbell play for North Carolina, but clearly he is very skilled.

I watched plenty of Harry Shipp at Notre Dame, so his burst on to the scene was expected. A surprise is nice every once and a while.

Goalkeeping

It is the question fans won't let die. What happened to Sean Johnson? Well, according to Paunovic, he is still the great teammate he has always been.

The first-year coach said Johnson has handled his demotion to second string "very well" and has remained a great teammate to everyone. Paunovic even said he understands Johnson's situation, having been relegated to the bench after a starting gig in his own playing career. That is well and true.

BUT, and this is an important but, there are some key differences. Johnson is a young 26 years old with five senior national team call-ups and six youth national team call-ups. He has also appeared in 154 MLS matches for the Chicago Fire. Paunovic never reached 100 appearances with a single club and only got close to that number with Atletico Madrid.

Clearly I can respect Paunovic's viewpoint on the inner struggles of a player looking to get on the field, but I am not 100 percent sure he really understands just how ingrained Johnson has become to the Fire culture. Fans love him, and rightfully so. To just move away from him to a guy most thought would be second or third stringer can be upsetting.

Matt Lampson has earned his spot in my view. I'm not advocating for him to lose his job. But if Paunovic, and the club for that matter, really want to keep Johnson in the fold then they need to up their public relations game. Johnson has been with us through the thick and thin and we'd rather see him thrive elsewhere than rot here. A clear message needs to be sent that he truly is OK with his current role.

In other important news, Paunovic said he hasn't heard of any trade talks involving Johnson, but to ask Sean, so take that as you will.

Injuries & Callups

Did you know the Fire practiced with only 14 players Monday? Calling St. Louis, am I right?

The team is slightly banged up right now with David Accam, John Goossens and apparently Arturo Alvarez all dealing with some knocks. It seems that trio will be ready for Philadelphia on April 2. Polster and Vincent are headed to the U-23 camp. Needless to say the team is a bit short.

The positive of the situation is that the young players get a chance to shine in training. Paunovic said he loved the progress of the young group especially Collin Fernandez and Alex Morrell. We saw Michael Stephens for the first time this season Saturday and I wouldn't be surprised if we see Fernandez soon.

Fernandez was dynamite in the preseason and with Polster and Vincent possibly unavailable for the Philadelphia match, Paunovic could tweak with his lineup. A Fernandez appearance would be warmly welcomed by us at Hot Time, especially after a very quiet midfield performance on Saturday.