Premier League the goal for Fire's Johnson

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Premier League the goal for Fire's Johnson

A year ago, Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson caught the eye of legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson, making a handful of quality saves against the Red Devils in front of a sold-out crowd at Soldier Field.

On Saturday, Johnson didn't dress for the Fire's international friendly against Aston Villa as manager Frank Klopas wished to rest his banged-up keeper. But even though Johnson didn't get a chance to test himself against another English Premier League squad, chances are he'll get that opportunity in the future.

"I think every player aspires to be in the Premier League," Johnson said on Friday. "Every player wants to play at the top level and be with the best, so its definitely somewhere I think if my career goes where I want it to go, hopefully one day Ill end up there."

Johnson's teammates have his back in supporting his Premier League aspirations, and with good reason. The 23-year-old keeper has saved 76 percent of the shots he's faced this season, allowing an average of 1.14 goals per match, and his mates believe he still has plenty of room for growth.

"The skys the limit for Sean," midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "Its unbelievable how much hes developed in these last couple years. In the next year or two, if not right now, hes going to be a hot commodity somewhere."

Midfielder Chris Rolfe agreed.

"Everyone can see how talented he is and how athletically gifted he is," Rolfe explained. "But theres more to it with Sean. Hes very disciplined, hes very professional. For someone his age to be like that is, I think thats going to be the difference-maker.

"If playing in the Premier League is something he wants, I think if he puts his mind to it hes definitely capable of that."

The Premiership is home to a pair of first-team American keepers in Tim Howard (Everton) and Brad Friedel (Tottenham). Aston Villa's Brad Guzan, a native of Homer Glen, Ill., is currently locked in a battle with Ireland international Shay Given for the team's No. 1 goalkeeper job. If he wins it, he'll be the third.

Guzan re-signed with Villa only a few days ago, much to the applause of his teammates.

"Brad's always been a great keeper," midfielder Fabian Delph said after Saturday's match. "I've been at Villa three years now and as soon as I came, I remember thinking 'wow, what a keeper this guy is.' Obviously, we thought he was leaving at the end of the season and I was delighted to see him come back."

Of the nine United States expats playing in the Premiership, three are keepers. Seattle-born Marcus Hahnemann enjoyed an extensive career at England's top level, playing for Reading and Wolverhampton while those clubs enjoyed Premier League status. And fellow Washington native Kasey Keller had successful stints with Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur during his illustrious career.

Neither Delph nor Villa manager Paul Lambert could quite put their finger on why American keepers have had success in the Premier League, at least compared to their defender, midfielder and attacker counterparts. Maybe there's no answer to that question, but it has left many looking for the next great American keeper.

Friedel was with Villa for the beginning of Guzan's tenure in Birmingham, and Delph saw one Brad tutor another.

"It's a big deal for them to play in the Premier League and leave the country," Delph said. "I know Brad Friedel, and he's always been dedicated and the ultimate professional. Obviously the younger Brad working with him has rubbed off on him, and he's been exactly the same."

Perhaps there's something to the class of American goalkeepers working together and teaching one another. Johnson had that kind of learning experience last December during a one-week training session with Everton, where Howard has enjoyed considerable success.

"You realize when youre over there that youre training with the best of the best, and they have the best of the best from facilities to training sessions to everything around," Johnson said of his few days practicing with Everton. "The guys are top quality as well. So just being in that environment, youre able to raise your game and learn some things to bring back over to apply to the league here and make yourself a successful player here."

A few months after Johnson dazzled a sold-out crowd at Soldier Field for the Manchester United match, a bogus rumor circulated that United was going to bring Johnson in for a trial. While it was quickly de-bunked, the thought of Johnson donning a United jersey seemed at least plausible.

Ferguson and United already have their keeper of the future in Spaniard David De Gea. But there are 19 other clubs in the Premiership, and one of them may look to Chicago to get their hands on the next quality American goalkeeper.

Yoan Moncada 'relieved' to get first White Sox hit out of way

Yoan Moncada 'relieved' to get first White Sox hit out of way

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Yoan Moncada can’t complain much about his first hit with the White Sox.

Given all the elements, it rates about a 9 1/ 2 out of 10. Only a homer would have been better.

Baseball’s top prospect continues to look comfortable at the plate and in the field. Two days after he made his team debut, Moncada earned his first hit when he ripped a two-out, bases-loaded triple early in Friday night’s 7-6 loss to the Kansas City Royals. Moncada finished 1-for-4 with four RBIs.

“Once I got that first hit, I felt relieved,” Moncada said through an interpreter. “First, because it was the first one. And second because of the situation. It was a three RBIs triple. It was a very big moment of the game. I think that from now on I’m going to feel more relaxed and comfortable.”

Moncada has put together a series of good plate appearances in his first two games. He’s looked at ease while in the box and hasn’t panicked even when he gets behind in the count. Moncada said he felt even more comfortable when he stepped in to face Royals starter Ian Kennedy in the third inning. Not only was it his second time facing Kennedy, but Moncada sat in the on-deck circle as Matt Davidson drew a 10-pitch walk to load the bases with two outs.

Hitting left-handed, Moncada fell behind 0-2 in the count but Kennedy hung a 78-mph knuckle curve and the rookie lined it deep into the left-center field gap to clear the bases. Moncada not only showed his power, he also showed off his wheels: his 11.24 seconds from home to third was the fastest time by a White Sox player this season, according to MLB Statcast.

“He's seeing the ball,” manager Rick Renteria said. “He seems pretty calm, composed out there. It's just a couple of days, but in terms of how he's carrying himself, his body language, he seems to be transitioning pretty well up to this point, first couple of days.”

Moncada said Friday was much calmer than his Wednesday debut against the Los Angeles Dodgers when he drew a walk and went 0-for-2. The switch-hitting second baseman had an RBI groundout in his first at-bat Friday to give the White Sox a 1-0 lead. Then he stood in and tracked Kennedy with Davidson at the plate.

All in all, Moncada’s happy with how he’s executed his plan at the plate thus far. He said he choked up on the 0-2 pitch and put a good swing on it.

“That at-bat gave me more time to see in real life his pitches,” Moncada said. “I’ve been feeling very comfortable. In Chicago, that first game, it was a little bit nervous. But overall I feel very comfortable hitting and with my defense.”

Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez rings NASDAQ closing bell

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Chicago Fire

Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez rings NASDAQ closing bell

As part of the hype for the MLS All-Star Game, Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez and a handful of Major League Soccer cohorts made a trip to New York on Friday.

Rodriguez rang NASDAQ's closing bell. The MLS All-Star Game will take place at Soldier Field on Aug. 2.

Check out the photos from the occasion.