After dazzling performance, Sean Johnson optimistic about Fire playoff push

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Fire may have earned a well-rounded 3-0 victory over the Philadelphia Union, but it was rejuvenated goalkeeper Sean Johnson who received most of the postgame plaudits with a Man-of-the-Match performance that laid the foundations for Saturday’s impressive win.

Johnson produced a number of instinctive and pivotal saves to deny the visitors on several occasions, most notably on Chris Pontius in the 31st minute and Tranquillo Barnetta in the 54th, as well as a couple of saves late with the Union desperately trying to get back in the game.

His fifth shutout of the year, and the team’s eighth, saw Veljko Paunovic’s men improve its record to 6-12-8 and move within six points of the final playoff spot with eight games to play.

“I think today with no exception everyone had a fantastic game,” the Fire head coach said. “It was a fantastic performance and Sean obviously had a great game. I’m very happy that Sean is getting more comfortable with covering the depth and the aerial balls that we have, I’m very happy about it. Of course, his saves were very important for the team today and the overall performance was very good.”

After starting the season as a backup to Matt Lampson, Johnson has cemented his position between the posts, starting 15 of the last 17 regular-season games and providing good value for the renewed confidence Paunovic has shown in him.

Reflecting on the game, a typically humble and focused Johnson spoke mostly of the team’s improved confidence following a 3-0 win in Montreal on Aug. 20 and the momentum that remains despite a 6-2 loss at D.C. United last week.

“I think our game plan was just to settle into the game and wait until the game came to us and then once we started dictating play, just doing what I can to keep the team in the game,” the 27-year-old goalie said. “We’ve done an impressive job over the last few weeks of really building on the first result we had away at Montreal and using that momentum to get better and better. On the night, we did a fantastic job all the way around the pitch and I am just doing what I can to contribute.”

Johnson’s five saves were the highlight of a polished performance in which he commanded his area with the kind of confidence you’d expect from the seven-year MLS veteran. And despite the Fire’s continued lowly position in the East, Johnson remains optimistic that a late push for the playoffs is possible.

“We finally have a foundation and this league, you know how it is,” he said. “The summer months are important, you can win two games and things can turn around quickly. We’re taking it one game at a time, and we’ll definitely look to keep charging.”

And with another two home games on the horizon against Toronto FC and D.C. United, Johnson and Co. are confident they can build on their impressive home record of 5-2-6.   

“Obviously, that’s important for us, two home games in a row, it’s massive,” Johnson said. “We’ve been really good this season at home, we want to continue that, but taking it one game at a time is the most important thing. We can’t get ahead of ourselves. If we keep replicating performances game in, game out, we’ll start to see ourselves climb. But we can’t start to look at other results, or look at other things going on around the league. We have to focus on what we’re doing here and keep building on that.”