Standing on the pitch at Red Bull Arena back on Sept. 11, 2015, Sean Johnson likely wouldn’t have predicted that his next MLS regular season appearance would come on those very same New Jersey grounds.
But that was the case for the seventh-year member of the Fire after missing Chicago’s final six matches of 2015 with a shoulder injury and watching Matt Lampson start the first nine for the Men In Red in 2016. Johnson saw his first action of the season in Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to the Red Bulls, in the process tying Ante Razov for 12th on the club’s all-time MLS regular season appearances list with 155. His 155 league starts for the Fire rank seventh, one spot behind Wednesday’s opposing manager, Jesse Marsch.
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“It felt great,” Johnson said of his return postmatch. “It’s a long year and the feeling of playing at night under the lights is one that’s hard to describe. It’s good to be back out there and I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team win, that’s the most important thing.”
Despite seeing only one shot placed on frame by the opposition, Johnson was denied his 32nd career shutout when Mike Grella turned in a tidy finish in the 58th minute, helping the Red Bulls capitalize on a rare defensive miscue by the Fire.
“We wanted to make it very difficult for them to break us down,” Johnson said. “They are a talented team attacking, especially from the wide areas combining and going forward. To allow only one shot on goal was great for us and to see how far we’ve come along this year and hopefully we can keep building.”
On the heels of a trying road trip -- and an unexpected start to 2016 for the longest-tenured member of the club -- Johnson is focused on looking forward.
“This game is behind us now, we’ll learn from our mistakes and move on,” he said. “I thought overall we have something really good to build on and now we’re starting to develop that confidence to really go on and push. We have to come out on Saturday with the mentality that we’re going to dictate the play at home and really take it to Houston.”