For Sean Johnson, Saturday night’s friendly match at the StubHub Center will mark a first return to a venue which holds special memories.
New York City FC’s 2-0 victory over LA Galaxy was a highlight of 2017, both collectively and for the team’s goalkeeper who produced one of the most impressive individual performances of the campaign.
However, Sean isn’t one to dwell on past glories, preferring instead to focus on the challenges that lie in wait in NYCFC: Season Four - now less than a month away.
Remembering that night in LA which saw Johnson make five highlight reel saves, Johnson admits it was a bright spot but he’s more interested in bettering City’s second place finish overall and landing the Supporters Shield in his second season at the Club.
Johnson told NYCFC.com: “Obviously it was a bright spot but, for me, I look at stretches of the season where you want to be at your best to give us the best chance of winning games.
“Collectively, we were really good and I tried my best to be part of that. I just want to try and focus on building from last year at this stage – we finished second place overall, so there’s only one place to go from there and that’s up.”
An influential figure in the NYCFC GK Union, Sean is relishing working with Jeff Caldwell, Andre Rawls and Brad Stuver under goalkeeper coach Rob Vartughian, as the quintet push each other day-in, day-out on the training field.
He also reserved praise for Jeff Caldwell, NYCFC’s First Round SuperDraft, who he sees a little of himself in from the early stages of his career.
“It’s funny, I see a lot of similarities to myself when I was a younger player in Jeff,” Johnson smiled.
“He’s athletic, he’s got a good head on his shoulders. Goalkeeper is a position where time and experience is huge. He’s picking up things very quickly and I’m impressed with his composure and his work ethic. He’s definitely done a very good job, he’s very solid.”
On the collective, Sean said: “It’s great, from the time we first got together in Jacksonville we’ve really established a great crew. We work really well together, pushing each other and there’s great banter. This is the way we all get better, both personally and as a group.”
As we pass the two-week marker for preseason 2018, there have been a number of satisfying aspects to City’s preparations but, for Johnson, the Academy players and their impressive performances in training have been as pleasing as any other detail.
Justin Haak, Dante Polvara, Gio Reyna, Joe Scally and Tyler Shaver all shone in Jacksonville and the youngest members of this party continue to slot in seamlessly, much to Sean's pleasure.
“The academy boys have been brilliant,” Johnson reflected, “It’s weird to think about where I was at their age – it was certainly way faraway from where they are now.
“There’s some good, talented players coming in and it’s not like they’ve missed a beat, they’re confident and they’ve slotted in with a proper mentality, because this is a really good first-team group and, to join that, you have to be ready and every single one of them has lived up to that.”
As for the game against The Galaxy, Sean believes it’s an important test at an important stage of preseason and the squad looks to build chemistry and gain experience in a situation which will be close to a live MLS game scenario when points will be on the line.
He added: “It’s great that we get to play in front of an actual crowd in this stadium – a game that assimilates what it’s going to be like in the season.
“For a lot of the guys, they’ve been there and done it and it gets better and better every single time. For the new guys, they’ll learn what playing in an MLS stadium is really like. I’m really looking forward to it – it’s going to be a good night.”
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