Sean Johnson: Underperforming NYCFC's early playoff ouster "inexcusable"

ATLANTA — In the immediate aftermath of a promising season that ended way too premature for anyone in New York City FC’s locker room to accept, goalkeeper and leader Sean Johnson’s disappointment and frustration were bore out in a pair of words on the lips of every NYCFC fan: “Inexcusable” and “underperformed.”

While admitting he needed time to digest the finality of the season following a 3-1 loss to Atlanta United in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals on Sunday, Johnson said the team’s postseason demise was a hard pill to swallow given the MLS Cup-contending quality of the roster assembled.

“I think it’s the most frustrating thing to have such a talented group to come up empty-handed in two games. Not just one, but two games,” Johnson said. “It’s inexcusable for us as a team to not go out and get at least one result and advance. We’re good enough to advance, we’re good enough to play for the Eastern Conference Finals and the [MLS] Cup final. Definitely underperformed and it’s tough. A lot of questions have to get answered now because of the outcome of the past two games.”

For most of the first half of the season, NYCFC were viewed as a legitimate contender, sitting atop the Supporters’ Shield standings along with Atlanta United after the Cityzens played the Five Stripes to a second regular season draw — a 1-1 stalemate in the Bronx on June 9.

The high point of the season came a month later — four consecutive wins, all by clean sheet, over the New York Red Bulls, Montreal Impact, Columbus Crew SC and Orlando City SC.

But the club won just three of their final 13 games and while back-to-back wins over the Philadelphia Union — on Decision Day presented by AT&T and in the Knockout Round — gave reason for hope that NYCFC’s championship-caliber form had returned at the right time, those feeling were fleeting with a 4-1 aggregate defeat to Atlanta United and a third consecutive Eastern Conference Semifinals ouster.

“It’s disappointing,” Johnson said. “It’s not a position you want to walk away saying it’s the second year in a row and we’re looking forward to next year and things like that. It’s really still digesting this moment and at the end of the day it just wasn’t good enough over two legs to get the job done.”

While a third consecutive playoff appearance in the club’s first four years of existence is something to be celebrated for some teams, Johnson said that’s not the reality at NYCFC.

“Making it to the playoffs is great, but it’s not by any means the goal of this group,” Johnson said. “The goal is to lift a trophy and lift the Cup and its really, really upsetting to not have that happen.”