New York City FC has played 25 matches this season. They've won just one less than their total of 15 from last season and sit just four points behind Toronto FC, who might end up putting together one of the best seasons in MLS history.
Throughout this season, one of the major differences from years past has been a level of defensive consistency that has buoyed the heroics of MLS Golden Boot-leading David Villa and helped NYCFC achieve a more well-rounded style of play.
Central to that turnaround has been goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who arrived from the Chicago Fire this past off-season. Since putting on the gloves for City, Johnson has rejuvenated his career, even earning a call from the U.S. Men's National Team during their trophy-winning Gold Cup campaign.
Now, at the tail end of a season with many more highs than lows for him and his teammates, Johnson knows that maintaining that consistency is key. With the upcoming playoff campaign creeping over the horizon, every match matters.
“Points are important. At this point in the season, every point matters," said the goalkeeper after Sunday night's victory over the New England Revolution.
"You can see now, I think with nine games left, teams are really pushing to scrape together points. And we put ourselves in a position this season to be in a good spot to push late on, so we gotta keep going, continue to keep building. I think as long as we keep putting performances together, I think we’ll be alright.”
Part of that building process for NYCFC involves becoming one of those teams who can scrape together points—and, more importantly, wins—even without performing at their best. Grinding out results through adversity is a valuable skill.
“I think winning is the name of the game," said Johnson. "And however you do that, whether it’s pretty some days, whether it’s scrappy, I think you have to find a way to come away with wins, especially at home when we find a way.
"It may not be the conventional way, but we’re a team that’s confident in our abilities and at any point in the match, we have a chance to win. Whether we’re down a man and whether we’re down a goal, we’ve been in all situations where we’ve faced adversity and we’ve had our backs against the wall and we’ve responded accordingly."
Of course, the defensive fortitude of this season's incarnation of NYCFC is a central reason why they always feel like they have a chance to win a match. City holds a positive goal differential of 13, and even without the injured Maxime Chanot, they've ripped off three wins on the trot thanks to the central defensive pairing of Alex Callens and Frederic Brillant.
Farther up the pitch, things aren't bad, either. Villa leads MLS with 19 goals, and rookie Jonathan Lewis has proved he can be a difference-maker when called upon. With players like these in front of him, Johnson knows there's no reason to panic even when things don't quite go according to plan.
“It feels good," said Johnson of the ability to rely on his teammates.
"First off, it’s great that we got the win. It’s great that the guys were able to put together a performance to come back and score two goals after being down. The important thing is, things happen sometimes. Life throws things at you that you can’t control. You control the things you can control, and you try to help the team."
In his final reflection on Sunday night's match, Johnson offered up a bit of philosophy that highlights the approach the club has taken to this season. With the steel of the veteran leader he's become on this squad, the goalkeeper hammered home a distillation of Head Coach Patrick Vieira's central message to his squad: Consistency is the key.
"You’ve got to take the good with the bad," mused Johnson.
"You can’t get too high when you play well, and you can’t get too low when mistakes happen. It’s about finding that level ground.”