After serving the Chicago Fire the first seven years of his professional career, Sean Johnson joined New York City FC in 2017 — the second season under former head coach Patrick Vieira.
While Vieira departed for Ligue 1 and OGC Nice midway through 2018, his methods and style continue to benefit NYCFC’s No. 1 goalkeeper.
On Thursday, United States men’s national team coach Gregg Berhalter named Johnson to the 27-man roster for the team’s annual January camp set to commence Jan. 6 in Chula Vista, Calif.
In addition to Johnson, Berhalter summoned three other goalkeepers, including his former netminder at Columbus Crew SC, Zack Steffen, Toronto FC’s Alex Bono and Tyler Miller from LAFC.
At 29-years old, Johnson is the elder member of the group, although his five caps are one fewer than the 23-year-old Steffen. Johnson last appeared in a USMNT match at the 2013 Gold Cup, getting a clean sheet in the final Group Stage match against Costa Rica enroute to the U.S. winning the championship.
While managing Crew SC, Berhalter observed Johnson the last six seasons, first with the Fire and then with the Cityzens. During a conference call Thursday after the roster was announced, Berhalter would not speculate about what has limited the 6-foot-3 Atlanta native on the international stage, but he did specify a technical upgrade that made him want Johnson in camp.
“It’s more seeing his transformation in playing with his feet,” Berhalter said. “In Chicago, he was not that comfortable with his feet. When Patrick (Vieira) took over and brought him in (to NYCFC), he improved.”
There was mutual admiration between Berhalter and Vieira, in part because of their similar philosophies – which include building from the back and through the keeper.
Berhalter also noted Johnson’s willingness to expand on deficiencies in his game.
“It was that improvement that intrigued me,” Berhalter said. “When you see a player that age continue to improve, that is impressive.”
Johnson will turn 30 on May 31, 2019, and he will be competing with more than the goalkeepers in Chula Vista. Berhalter suggested that Bill Hamid (D.C. United) and Tim Melia (Sporting Kansas City) had very good years and will remain in consideration, along with Atlanta United goalkeeper and USMNT veteran Brad Guzan.
“Brad is an example of a guy who has played a long MLS season and he needs to rest,” Berhalter said.
Johnson, who signed a multiyear contract extension with New York City, earned his first cap as a halftime substitute in a friendly match against Chile in January of 2011. That appearance cap-tied the dual national (U.S. and Jamaica).