31 October 2011
Posted in Chicago Fire
Okay everyone I am back from my brief blogging hiatus. I needed a little time to decompress and let the emotions of the season pass a little before I could begin to write a recap post. Today will be the beginning of a 4 part, 4 day series that breaks down the team's 2011 campaign position by position. As the title notes, today will focus on the goalkeepers.
This might be the easiest position to evaluate. The Fire had 3 keepers on their roster this season, and we only saw two of them in first team play - across all competitions. I won't write anything about Alec Dufty except to say that he was the Fire's third keeper and I think he did a great job at his position this year. I will obviously put a lot of focus on the top two guys - both of whom saw first team action in 2011.
Sean Johnson - Why wouldn't you start with SJ? 2011 was a bit of an up and down year for him, but he really had some big moments and proved down the stretch that he is one of the great young keepers in the game. After a rough start to the campaign - which was capped off by a drubbing at expansion Portland - Johnson was benched by boss Carlos de los Cobos (I really hope this is the last time I have to mention him in a post) and rode the bench for about 5 weeks before returning to the lineup on May 28 to face San Jose. He allowed 2 goals in that match, but then rattled off 3 consecutive clean sheets against Seattle, Kansas City, and Columbus.
After returning to the lineup in late May, Johnson held on to the starters job all year and posted a very impressive resume. Only once (Aug 7 at Vancouver) did Sean give up more than two goals in a match and he held many of the clubs he faced to 0 or 1 goal against.
His most impressive performances were actually his two friendly appearances where in 45 minutes in both matches he held EPL powerhouse Manchester United and Mexican powerhouse CD Guadalajara both goalless. Johnson also came up huge in PK situations over the course of the season, stopping some of the most prolific scorers in the league on PK's.
In addition to all of these accomplishments, the most telling thing I saw from SJ this year was his development in both skill and maturity as the season progressed. He started helping position his defenders better on opponents attacks, and he came up with some huge saves when he was called on. There were times that it seemed like no one could have scored on him and that is exactly what every team hopes to get out of their keeper.
All in all, I think Johnson took a huge step forward this year, and I truly think his play down the stretch was critical in helping bring the Fire back into the playoff hunt in the final third of the season. If he continues to get better and develop in the off-season, Fire supporters are going to be in for a treat next year - as well as several free gallons of milk.
I think he played well enough to earn another call up to the USMNT and it could be really beneficial for him to get the opportunity to train with and learn a little from Everton and USMNT keeper Tim Howard.
Jon Conway - On the surface I like Jon Conway. He seems like a great guy, and he's someone who goes out there and does his job when he's called upon. I'm not going to lie, his mid season "A day in the life" video really helped bring me around to him, it showed he had some personality and that he was a really cool guy. All that said, he's the Brian Scalabrine of the Chicago Fire. You love the guy, as long as he's on the bench.
The scorelines don't show it, but Conway was largely a dissapointment during his time in net this season. On the surface you could say that he was serviceable, not allowing more than 2 goals to any MLS opponent, but you have to actually watch the matches to get a true feel for how he played. I think that the goals he allowed this season were too soft. He just didn't look comfortable in net, and more times than not if he was scored on it seemed like it could have been a fairly routine save for most keepers at this level.
He gave up all three goals vs. Man U, with two of them being complete head scratchers. He gave up the game winning goal to CD Guadalajara as well. It seemed like anytime Jon Conway was in the net you knew there was going to be some decent saves followed by an absolutely infuriating goal allowed.
As much as I like Jon Conway the individual, I do not like Jon Conway the keeper. And if this team is going to compete next season, they need a decent backup in the event that something unforeseen happens to Sean Johnson. SJ has the potential to be an elite keeper, but there still should not be such a huge drop off between him and his backup.
Check back tomorrow for the much lengthier analysis of the Chicago Fire backline.
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