Atlanta United are close to landing a No. 1 goalkeeper.
The 2017 expansion club are nearing a deal to acquire Georgia native Sean Johnson from the Chicago Fire, according to multiple sources.
If the deal is completed, Chicago will receive general allocation money in exchange for the 27-year-old Johnson, who has appeared in 176 regular season games since being drafted by the Fire in 2010. Though the sources indicated that the trade is all but done, it can’t become official until the MLS trade window temporarily re-opens for three hours on the morning of Sunday, Dec. 11, the day after MLS Cup.
Both Atlanta and Chicago declined to comment on the prospective move.
Chicago’s No. 1 ‘keeper for the entire 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 seasons, Johnson began 2016 as the backup under first-year head coach Veljko Paunovic. He eventually won the starting job back from Matt Lampson in mid-May and finished the year with 22 starts.
The Fire announced last week that they’d picked up Johnson’s contract for 2017, a somewhat surprising move given his benching at the start of 2016. The club also picked up Lampson’s option for next year.
Johnson has posted a 58-63-65 record with 36 shutouts while allowing an average of 1.41 goals per game in his seven-year MLS career. He allowed 37 goals in his 22 appearances in 2016, posting five shutouts and recording a 6-10-6 regular season record for the last-place Fire. A member of the US national team that won the 2013 CONCACAF Gold Cup, Johnson has five career caps with the USMNT.
Johnson, who was born and raised in the Atlanta suburbs, would be the second goalkeeper acquired by Atlanta. The club signed 23-year-old Alexander Tambakis as their first-ever player in January. Tambakis, who had made only five career first-team appearances before joining Atlanta, allowed 22 goals in 21 games while on loan this year with the Charleston Battery, Atlanta’s USL affiliate.
Analyzing the Nagbe rumors
Darlington Nagbe popped up last week in Glasgow, where he reportedly took in Celtic’s UEFA Champions League clash against Barcelona at the invitation of the Scottish Premier League giants.
By now, you’ve likely seen the reports claiming Celtic are interested in acquiring the Portland Timbers star for somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million. You’ve also probably seen the Timbers’ response, with club officials telling The Oregonian that the team “expects Nagbe to be with the Timbers in 2017.”
A club expecting a player to return doesn’t always mean he actually will, but I don’t see Nagbe going anywhere – at least not at that price. The reasons why are threefold:
First, Nagbe is entirely under the Timbers’ control. The 26-year-old signed a contract extension with Portland in March that reportedly runs through 2019. There’s no imminent danger for Portland of Nagbe walking away on a free transfer. If he’s sold, it’ll be because the Timbers get an offer they simply cannot refuse.
Second, it’d be difficult for Portland to replace Nagbe. No, he hasn’t put together the goal or assist totals many had hoped he would in his first six years in the league, but the Akron product is incredibly versatile. He’s more than capable of lining up as a winger or central midfielder, and, as noted last week by Chris Rifer over at Stumptown Footy, he’s at or near the top of Portland’s depth chart on the wing, as a box-to-box center mid and at the No. 10 position.
If Nagbe leaves, the Timbers, who could very well say goodbye to winger Lucas Melano this winter, would need to fill his starting wing spot and find a new backup for attacking midfielder Diego Valeri. Replacing Nagbe wouldn’t be cheap. Neither would finding a new No. 10 to deputize for the 30-year-old Argentine.
Third, it wouldn’t be unreasonable for the Timbers to expect Nagbe’s value to go up in the near future due to a potential return to the US national team. After Nagbe declined to join the US national team for their October friendlies against Cuba and New Zealand, it was reported by Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl that he didn't feel valued by manager Jurgen Klinsmann and that he might not be called in for future camps. Klinsmann subsequently left Nagbe off the roster for the November World Cup qualifiers against Mexico and Costa Rica, but then said Nagbe would again play a role with the national team one day before he was dismissed by U.S. Soccer.
We'll never know if Klinsmann would've recalled Nagbe, but it's probably safe to assume that new USMNT manager Bruce Arena will give him a look. If Nagbe does return to the international picture, his transfer price should go up – a return to the US wouldn’t change the type of player he is, but it would make him more visible and more expensive for any club looking to bring him in.
None of this is to say there’s no scenario in which the Timbers wouldn’t sell Nagbe – every player in the world has a price. But for Nagbe and Portland, that price is probably higher than $2 million.
Drogba's Montreal legacy and what comes next
Montreal’s season is over, and Didier Drogba’s days with the Impact are done.
The Ivorian legend, who announced following the first leg of the Impact’s Eastern Conference Championship defeat to Toronto FC that he'd be leaving MLS, went out with a bit of a whimper on Wednesday night. He put in some solid hold-up play and tested Clint Irwin with a free kick, but he failed to make too much of a difference after coming on in the 71st minute of Montreal’s season ending loss in Leg 2 at BMO Field.
The defeat was a disappointing end to what was at times an awkward season for Drogba, who butted heads with head coach Mauro Biello down the stretch as he was relegated to a reserve role behind Matteo Mancosu before eventually making up with his manager in time for the playoffs.
While he didn’t end his time in Montreal in the storybook fashion that Impact fans were dreaming of, there’s no doubting Drogba’s influence on the club and the city’s soccer scene. The Ivorian famously resuscitated what was quickly turning into a failure of a 2015 season, scoring 11 goals in his 11 regular season contests last year to carry the Impact into the playoffs. He played a role in accelerating the Impact’s rise in Montreal, at times captivating a fan base that packed 61,000-seat Olympic Stadium to capacity in last week’s first leg.
Now he’s gone, and the Impact have to decide how they want to replace him. According to Montreal executive VP Richard Legendre, it won’t necessarily be with another Designated Player, with the exec telling me earlier this week that “it’s too early to say” whether or not the Impact will sign a DP to fill Drogba’s vacated slot.
“We constantly need to have a good team, a team representative of the city. It needs to be very international – very francophone and international at the same time, which we’ve had in the last two years,” Legendre said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “But to say we’re looking for another Didier Drogba, I’m afraid that we would fail in trying to find another Didier Drogba. [Signing him] was a unique situation and we continue to strive for excellence, but we need a variety of players and we need depth, as well. We think we have depth right now. We need to continue to improve the team, but we have a very good core.”
Part of that core is Mancosu. The veteran Italian arrived in Montreal in July on loan from Serie A club Bologna, which is owned by Impact owner Joey Saputo. He impressed in the regular season and ran wild in the playoffs, recording three goals and four assists in 15 regular season appearances before tallying four goals and two assists in five postseason matches.
His loan deal is set to expire at the end of next June, but Legendre indicated that it’s possible that the 31-year-old could stay with the Impact beyond the current terms of the loan.
“I think we need to have discussions on that,” said Legendre. “I don’t think it’s done right now. I know [Montreal technical director] Adam Braz will sit down with everybody who’s a question mark after the season, so that’s also too early to answer.
“But yes, we’ve seen not only Mancosu but we’ve seen the chemistry between Mancosu and [Ignacio] Piatti, that’s also important. And Piatti’s back next year and we’ve seen, even though they haven’t played together for a long period, it already clicks. So I think it’s something that we are very, very happy about, especially with the fact that Didier’s leaving. I think that with this duo and I would even say a trio… with Piatti, Mancosu and [Dominic] Oduro starting, that it has worked very well.”