Toronto FC lands a new No. 1 goalkeeper in U.S. international Sean Johnson
Toronto FC filled its gaping hole in goal Friday, signing U.S. international Sean Johnson through 2024.
The 33-year-old free agent, who spent the last six seasons with New York City FC, is entering his 14th season in Major League Soccer. He arrives at the top of his game, having played all 34 regular-season matches for NYCFC last year with a career-high 14 clean sheets while earning his first MLS all-star selection.
The six-foot-three 216-pounder has made 400 appearances for New York and the Chicago Fire in all competitions since entering the league in 2010.
"Sean is among the top goalkeepers in MLS and we are thrilled he has chosen Toronto FC as his new club," Toronto president Bill Manning said in a statement. “Sean is a true leader on and off the field, and his experience, winning mentality and shot-blocking ability will help us solidify our defence.”
Johnson has won 10 caps for the U.S and was part of the American squad team at the recent World Cup in Qatar. He was on the bench for the Americans' 2-1 loss to Serbia on Wednesday in Los Angeles.
The U.S. hosts Colombia on Saturday in Carson, Calif.
Upgrading the goalkeeper position became a priority after Toronto conceded 66 goals last season, tying a franchise worst. Alex Bono and Quentin Westberg, who split the starting duties the last four years have since moved on — Bono to D.C. United and Westberg to Atlanta United.
"Sean has established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in MLS, given his club and international career," said Bob Bradley, Toronto's head coach and sporting director. "Sean continues to demonstrate his elite shot-stopping ability, athleticism and decision-making in important moments and the biggest games."
TFC has 29-year-old Greg Ranjitsingh, last year's third-stringer, and 22-year-old Tomas Romero as backups.
Johnson was acquired using targeted allocation money, which can be used to sign a new player provided his salary and acquisition costs are more than the maximum salary budget charge which was US$612,500 last season.
Given Johnson was a free agent, there was no acquisition cost this time.
Johnson made US$550,000 in 2022, compared to US$557,000 for Bono and US$313,585 for Westberg.
Also Friday, NYCFC acquired goalkeeper Matt Freese from the Philadelphia Union in exchange for general allocation money. The Union will receive US$200,000 in 2023 GAM, $150,000 in 2024, a percentage of a future transfer fee and an additional US$400,000 if certain performance conditions are met.
Freese was backup to Andre Blake, the reigning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, in Philadelphia.
Johnson is the second former club captain to join TFC in the off-season. Veteran centre back Matt Hedges, who signed as a free agent in December, served as FC Dallas skipper for eight seasons.
Italian star Lorenzo Insigne captained Napoli before joining Toronto last July. Midfielder Michael Bradley, the son of Bob Bradley, is TFC's longtime skipper.
Johnson has history with Toronto.
Alejandro Pozuelo beat him with a 90th-minute penalty to give Toronto a dramatic 2-1 victory over New York City FC in the 2019 Eastern Conference semifinal.
Pozuelo beat Johnson four of five times from the penalty spot while with Toronto.
Johnson has made 370 regular-season and playoff appearances in MLS since being drafted in the fourth round (51st overall) of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft by the Chicago Fire as a Generation Adidas player.
It was a savvy pick. Johnson made 176 regular-season starts over his seven years in Chicago, making 548 saves and logging 36 shutouts with a 1.42 goals against average.
But he saw less playing time in 2016 under new head coach Veljko Paunovic as Chicago finished last in the league.
He was traded in December 2016 ahead of the expansion draft to stock Atlanta United. Chicago shipped Johnson to Atlanta for US$100,000 in general allocation money. The 'keeper was then immediately moved to NYCFC for US$100,000 in general allocation money and US$50,000 in targeted allocation money.
He has been the NYCFC No. 1 ever since, captaining the team to the MLS Cup title in 2021. He was named MLS Cup MVP after stopping Felipe Mora and Diego Valeri in a 4-2 penalty shootout win over the hometown Portland Timbers.
"Sean has been a leader and a fantastic professional since the day he arrived and ultimately played such an important part in winning the club our first MLS Cup in 2021," NYCFC sporting director David Lee said in a statement.
“Sean has given everything to this club since he has arrived, but we understand his decision to take on a new challenge and to do what he feels is best for him and his family," Lee added. "We wish him nothing but the best in the next stage of his career.”
Johnson took a 767-minute shutout streak for the U.S. into the World Cup in Qatar, having conceded just one goal during his international career. That came eight minutes into his international debut — a 1-1 draw with Chile in January 2011 in Carson, Calif.
The native of Lilburn, Ga., whose parents are both of Jamaican descent, spent two years at the University of Central Florida, during which time he played for the U.S. under-20 team.
He serves on the executive board of MLS Black Players for Change.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 27, 2023
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press