Johnson may not return to Fire, eyes Europe

Johnson may not return to Fire, eyes Europe
November 11, 2013, 4:45 pm
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Len Ziehm

Sean Johnson’s future with the Fire may be in doubt, but his status continues to be solid with the U.S. national team.

The promising young goalkeeper was called up again for national team duty by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann this week.  He’s one of three netminders available for the final two matches of 2013 – vs. Scotland in Glasgow on Friday and Austria in Vienna on Nov. 19.

Just where Johnson fits into Klinsmann’s long-range plans is uncertain going into 2014,  when the U.S. will be among the qualifiers for the World Cup finals in Brazil, but at least he’s in the mix.

Tim Howard has been the established U.S. starter in goal and Brad Guzan has been his top backup.  Johnson has been in the battle for the No. 3 goalkeeper spot with Bill Hamid and Nick Rimando.

Howard, who plays his club soccer with Everton of the English Premier League, was on Klinsmann’s 23-man roster that gathered on Monday in Glasgow to begin preparations for Friday’s match. Guzan, currently injured, wasn’t.

[RELATED: Yallop indicates big changes coming to Fire]

Neither was Rimando, whose Real Salt Lake team is in the Western Conference championship series of the Major League Soccer playoffs.  Klinsmann had said he wouldn’t hesitate to call up players whose club teams were alive in the MLS playoffs, but he didn’t pick Rimando.

"The results in MLS wound up fitting in with our roster plans,’’ Klinsmann said in a release from U.S. Soccer, ``so we didn’t need to call in any guys who are still in the playoffs.’’

Hamid, who plays for D.C. United, and Johnson were on teams that didn’t qualify for postseason play.  Rimando was in goal when RSL beat the Portland Timbers in the first match of the home-and-home two-game Western Conference final on Sunday in Utah.  The second leg is this Sunday in Portland.  Winner of the series plays for the MLS Cup on Dec. 7.

Johnson, 24, has reportedly considered playing in Europe next season instead of returning to the Fire.  The Fire holds an option for him in 2014. The club could sign him to a contract extension or pick up the option and hope to cash in on an eventual transfer to a European club.  That decision will be made by Frank Yallop, who took over as head coach and director of soccer after the Fire missed the playoffs for the third time in Johnson’s four seasons.

A move to Europe might be best for Johnson’s long-term future.  He’s established himself with the Fire and was the club’s Defender of the Year in 2013.  Johnson, drafted out of Central Florida, made the Fire roster as a backup when Carlos de los Cobos was the head coach in 2010.  He replaced Andrew Dykstra as the starter at midseason and has held the job ever since.

[MORE: Yallop hits the ground running as new Fire head coach]

He’s also been groomed for international duty since earning his first U.S. cap against Chile in 2011. He has had three more caps since then, including a 1-0 win over Costa Rica that helped the U.S. win this summer’s Gold Cup tournament. That title run was one of many highlights for the U.S. team, which set records with 16 wins and a 12-game winning streak and led the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying competition during the course of the year.

One of Klinsmann’s other callups for the Scotland-Austria trip had a Chicago connection.  Eric Lichaj, who started in soccer with the Downers Grove Roadrunners, Chicago Magic and Chicago Fire Premier teams, got his first U.S. callup since 2011.  Bob Bradley, the first Fire coach, was in charge of the U.S. team then.

Lichaj, 24, has had eight caps for the U.S. side but none since the 2011 Gold Cup final.  He is the right back for Nottingham Forest of the EPL.

The two international friendlies are sandwiched between matches in MLS’ conference finals.  Those series, determined on aggregate goals scored, resume on Saturday when Sporting Kansas City hosts the Houston Dynamo in the Eastern Conference.  Their first match ended in a scoreless draw.  Rimando’s RSL club has the edge in Sunday’s wrapup to the Western Conference elimination.