Conway no reluctant starter in return to Fire nets

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Jon Conway didn’t enter the season as the Chicago Fire’s starting goalkeeper, but that didn’t mean he ever took his eyes off the No. 1 spot.

The 12-year veteran was acquired in a draft-day trade with Toronto FC as insurance for second-year ‘keeper Sean Johnson. The plan was that Conway would be a mentor for Johnson, teaching his younger counterpart a few tricks of the trade and stepping in for the occasional match.

Of course, things haven’t exactly gone according to plan. Johnson struggled to start the season, giving up nine goals in four games, including four in a dreadful performance at Portland, prompting Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos to start Conway in Chicago’s last two matches, a 2-1 loss to LA and a 1-1 draw with Houston.

The move was a welcome change for the 6-foot-6 Conway, who told MLSsoccer.com Tuesday that he came to Chicago to play and help Johnson along.

“Obviously I was coming here to play,” he told MLSsoccer.com. “I’m not coming to a place and not working every day to be the No. 1 guy, but I also realize [Sean’s] a young kid and it gives me an opportunity to help him out and move him along.”

“In the end, the coach makes the decision – if he plays me, he plays me, if not I just keep doing what I’m doing and working each day and maybe that translates to [Sean] seeing how I go about my business. But obviously being an older guy, you try to do what’s right, be a good pro and help out.”

The recent starts have been a welcome change for Conway, who made just 10 combined appearances in 2009 and 2010.

“Obviously [I’m relishing the opportunity] to be able to play,” he said. “I always want to be playing. … If it was me making the decision, I’d play myself every game. But I’m not the coach, so I just show up and go about my work and hopefully my work shows I’m ready to go and he can pencil me in.”

Conway’s move to the first team hasn’t affected his relationship with Johnson, either.

“The situation hasn’t changed,” Conway said. “It’s the same as it was in the beginning. It gets a little bit more magnified because it is a goalkeeper and there’s only one goalkeeper, but the coach makes changes week in and week out with players and it’s no different for us. We come to work, we understand what each other does well and what each other needs to do to get better and that’s the way it should be: competitive.”

De los Cobos hasn’t yet revealed if he’ll play Conway or Johnson in net on Saturday at Colorado. Conway – who hasn’t been at fault for any of the three goals he’s given up – will be ready to go either way.

“I’m always ready to go,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter the week or game, I’ll be ready and I feel good. Unfortunately the results haven’t gone our way against LA and this past weekend, so hopefully we can turn the tide and get a good result on Saturday.”

Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at sam.h.stejskal@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.