Most underappreciated goalie in MLS? NYCFC "not surprised" by Sean Johnson heroics

On a day where Thibault Courtois' heroics helped Real Madrid beat Liverpool for the UEFA Champions League title, New York City FC's Sean Johnson did his best impression of the Belgian international at Allianz Field Saturday night.

Sure, the stakes weren't quite as high in St. Paul as they were in Paris. But Johnson still rose to the occasion, stopping all five Minnesota shots he faced – including a flurry of chances in the latter stages – as the defending MLS Cup champions left town with a 1-0 win that placed them atop the Eastern Conference standings (26 points, 8W-3L-2D record).

"He saved us today," head coach Ronny Delia said of their captain.

At no point in the match did Johnson shine brighter than he did in the 90th minute. After turning aside an initial, deflected Emanuel Reynoso chance with the Loons searching for an equalizer, the NYCFC goalkeeper knocked Robin Lod's effort over the crossbar.

That all but sealed an eighth clean sheet this season for the 32-year-old, with NYCFC now unscored upon in his last six starts since a wild 5-4 win over Toronto FC on April 24.

"To keep [a clean sheet] again is an amazing achievement," Delia said. "We needed him [tonight] and he showed up. He's done that before, when we really needed [him] he's been there, and he did it again, so I'm not surprised."

It was an inspired performance by Johnson after receiving word he'll join the US men's national team's roster for a pair of June friendlies against Morocco and Uruguay, as well as the beginning of their Concacaf Nations League title defense against Grenada and away to El Salvador. He replaces Manchester City backstop Zack Steffen, who was forced to withdraw due to a family issue.

Delia mentioned he didn't know why Johnson wasn't selected to the roster in the first place. That said, with his goalkeeper's run of form the way it is right now, it could put Johnson firmly in the picture for the wide-open No. 3 spot behind Steffen and Arsenal-bound Matt Turner as the Qatar 2022 World Cup approaches. Nottingham Forest's Ethan Horvath is in the mix, too.

"I don't know the other goalkeepers [as well] that's the coaches to take that decision, and you have to respect that," said Delia. "At the same time, Sean can do more than they can do now, keeping clean sheets."

And Johnson's teammates certainly attest to his quality, especially after a 2021 campaign that saw him post nine shutouts and win the 2021 MLS Cup MVP presented by Audi trophy – even if he and the club weren't always at their best during the regular season.

"For me, before I even came, it's pretty clear he's one of the best, maybe the best in the league," said former USMNT midfielder Alfredo Morales. "Last year, he showed us, especially in our playoff run, and this year as well. He's so reliable, he's a great leader."