Toronto FC goalkeeper Sean Johnson renews acquaintances with New York City FC

·5 min read

Toronto FC's Sean Johnson welcomes the New York City FC team he used to captain to BMO Field on Saturday.

The 33-year-old goalkeeper is no stranger to facing a former club.

In December 2016, Chicago traded him to Atlanta, which promptly flipped him to NYCFC. He was the longest-tenured Fire player at the time, having joined Chicago as a fourth-round pick (51st overall) in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft and made 176 starts over seven years.

Scroll to continue with content

"It's just a part of the business," Johnson said after training Friday when asked if Saturday would be any different for him given the opponent. "Now a new home, new club."

Johnson, who joined TFC as a free agent in January, made 206 appearances in all competitions for NYCFC, logging 18,660 minutes and recording 60 clean sheets over five seasons with New York.

"We know Sean Johnson. He's a good guy, he's a good player," New York's Brazilian defender Thiago Martins said in English. "But now he plays there and we need to score. We want to win this game and we'll do our best to do that against him."

New York coach Nick Cushing said his team won't change anything against Johnson.

"We know Sean knows us but ultimately if we change the way that we approach games because of players that played for us we'd be forever changing here and there with the nature of the league," said Cushing. "I have huge respect for Sean. He was an excellent player, an incredible captain, for us. It will be nice to see him again."

Toronto (1-2-6) is looking to erase the bitter taste of a 4-2 loss last Saturday at Philadelphia, a game that was nowhere near as close as the scoreline suggests. The Union led 2-0 after 20 minutes and 3-0 at halftime, taking their foot off the gas after going up 4-0 in the 56th minute.

The loss snapped a string of four straight draws and a seven-game unbeaten run (1-0-6) for Toronto.

New York (4-2-3) is coming off a 3-1 home victory over FC Dallas with Uruguayan designated player Santiago Rodriguez, playing a false No. 9, scoring twice. It is unbeaten in four games (2-0-2) and has lost just once in its last eight outings (4-1-3) since a season-opening 2-0 loss at Nashville.

But while NYFC is 4-0-1 at home, it has yet to win on the road in league play this season (0-2-2).

"We have to get points on the road if we want to be a team that improves on last year," said Cushing. "The team is really hungry for that to start. We're pleased with getting draws at tough places like New England but we have to start getting three points on the road if we want to compete in the top of the league."

Added Martins: “It's not easy, but we need to impose ourselves away from home."

NYCFC was 6-8-3 away from home in league play last year when it finished third in the Eastern Conference, 21 points above 13th-place Toronto.

Luis Barraza, Johnson's former understudy, is starting for NYCFC, which had conceded more than one goal just twice this season. Barraza's goals-against average is 1.11 compared to 1.44 for Johnson, who has three shutouts to Barraza's one.

Cushing said the club looked around for goalkeepers in the off-season, acquiring Matt Freese from Philadelphia. But the 26-year-old Barraza won the job after an impressive training camp.

New York took Barraza in the first round (12th overall) in the 2019 MLS SuperDraft from Marquette University, where he won Big East Conference Goalkeeper of the Year honours.

"He's become a leader in the dressing room," Cushing said of Barraza. "He's very vocal and he has a real desire to continue to improve. So although it's only early and he still has Matt Freese really pushing him, at the moment I've been really pleased with the goalkeeping department."

Barraza can use his feet, recording 45 completed passes, with a 88 per cent pass accuracy, last week against Dallas. Barraza had 73 touches on the day.

"He's an excellent goalkeeper," said Johnson. "He's one of my better friends on the (NYCFC) team, if not my best friend on the team when I was there. We spent most of our hours working together. Just a really good work ethic. A young talent. The sky's the limit for him. "

Johnson found himself alone all too often last week in Philadelphia. The four goals conceded at Subaru Park dropped Toronto to 18th in the league on defence, conceding 1.44 goals a game.

Toronto midfielders Jonathan Osorio and Victor Vazquez are both out injured.

Osorio injured his knee in training Thursday, suffering a strained medial collateral ligament.

"It's hard with MCLs to know what the time frame is … I think the news so far is pretty positive," said Toronto coach Bob Bradley. "We were all worried that it could have been worse."

Vazquez, meanwhile, has flown to Barcelona to have a specialist look at a foot problem.

"It's been hard for him lately," said Bradley. "It's bothered him a lot. It hasn't settled down."

The 36-year-old Spaniard, whose pre-season was interrupted by a rib injury, has seen just 94 minutes of action across four league games this season.

Fullback Cristian Gutierrez (non-COVID illness) is also sidelined.

Defender Matt Hedges (concussion protocol), captain/midfielder Michael Bradley (lower body), winger Federico Bernardeschi (lower body) and forward Adama Diomande (lower body) were listed as questionable in TFC's injury report.

But Bob Bradley said Hedges has passed all tests while Bernardeschi "looks ready." Michael Bradley is improving and likely will be back in training next week, he added.

The coach said newly acquired forward C.J. Sapong and defender Aime Mabika could both be involved Saturday. Sapong, who saw action in eight games with Nashville this season, is the more likely candidate to debut.


Follow @NeilMDavidson on Twitter

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 28, 2023

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press