BRIAN SCIARETTA - Monday, January 3, 2011
As the US national team opens camp this week in Carson, California one of the top young players on the roster is Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson who is playing with the national team for the first time.
Johnson, 21, is coming off a strong rookie season where he emerged as the Fire's starting keeper halfway through the season. His play has seen him get rewarded with a national team call-up from US coach Bob Bradley.
"I was pretty excited," Johnson told YA about receiving the call-up. "I appreciate the opportunity and the chance to represent my country on the national team."
Johnson's emergence with the Fire during the second half of the season had made his inclusion into the national team widely expected by most national team followers. For Johnson though, it was not something that was on his mind.
"To be honest, I didn't focus too much on whether or not I would be on the January camp," Johnson admitted. "I was just focused on finishing the season out on a good note after it wasn't possible for us to make the playoffs. After the season was done, I hoped to get called into camp then it became a reality."
Once camp opens, Johnson's top priority will be to play well over the three weeks and convince Bradley that he should be the starting goalkeeper for the friendly against Chile on January 22nd. It will also be an opportunity for him to try to make an impression that he can be in the national team's plans moving forward.
"I want to gain experience because it's my first full national team camp," Johnson said of his expectations. "I am going in there with the right mindset and attitude, working hard, and try to make the roster for the Chile game. I think that is the goal. I am just going to take it a day at a time. I'll put the work in and I think things will work out."
"It's definitely everyone's goal to rise through the depth chart and that's something I definitely want to be a part of," he added. "It's just day-to-day can I keep the level of consistency where I can show that I am capable of playing at that level. I think the January camp is a really good place for me to start to achieve that."
Johnson began earning a reputation as a top keeper when he made the 2009 US U20 World Cup team and was a star player at the University of Central Florida where he was the team MVP in 2008. As a result, he was offered a Generation Adidas contract with MLS and was drafted by the Fire.
Johnson feels strongly that he developed significantly as player during 2010 and was satisfied with his rookie season.
"I definitely think I have grown as a player," the Georgia native assessed. "With the games I have played, I have gained a lot of experience. Going into the season, you just have to have an open mind. You just have to work hard and if the opportunity comes, which it did, you want to be able to take advantage. It definitely was a good experience this year. It was very good for me."
As for the upcoming year, Johnson wants to personally improve but more will be expected of him this year. The Fire's 2010 season was an overall disappointment as the team failed to make the playoffs so Johnson wants to lead the team to a successful rebound in 2011.
"I think we will do better than the past season because it was a disappointment to ourselves and the fans in not making the playoffs," Johnson said bluntly. "We owe it to ourselves and to everyone to come out and work that much harder to have a more successful season."
Another unique aspect of Johnson's background came during his teenage years when he trained with Jamaican youth national teams. As a dual citizen with Jamaica, he was eligible to do so but once the US called, his decision was easy.
"As far as I'm concerned, I was born and raised in the United States and my goal is to represent the country where I was born," Johnson said of playing for the US. "I made that decision and I think it's a good one. The training with the Jamaican teams was an opportunity in the past when I was probably 15 years old at the time. That's in the past for me and I'm happy now with where I am with the US team."
By making the decision to play for the US, Johnson will hope to eventually join ranks among the elite US keepers who have earned a reputation as being world class. He is aware of the tradition that was started by Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel and has continued with Tim Howard.
For Johnson, it is a tradition that he wants to maintain and carry on for another generation.
"It's a good reputation to uphold," Johnson concluded. "It's just working to become the best at what I do and that's why I play the game. Obviously with my game right now at 21, I think I have a long way to go. I am probably my toughest critic. Hopefully through my play and the experience I will gain throughout the year I will be able to embrace that title that US keepers have taken on."
Johnson and the US national team will open camp on Tuesday in Carson, California and will play Chile in a friendly on January 22nd at the Home Depot Center.