By DAVID GUBALA
The Chicago Fire departed for Ventura, Calif., on Wednesday with a long-missed face settling back with the team for the first time since the end of the regular season.
After having quite the busy offseason, goalkeeper Sean Johnson finally regrouped with the Fire for their second phase of preseason.
The 22-year-old Johnson had offseason stints in Europe and with the U.S. national team, from which he picked plenty of valuable qualities that he looks to incorporate into his game for the upcoming season.
"It’s been good, an incredible experience," Johnson said. "It was a lot of traveling. I first flew into Germany, then Everton for 8-to-12 days and I loved it. Plenty of good people all around and it was a great opportunity for me to learn a lot from those guys."
Following his time in Europe, Johnson was called into Jurgen Klinsmann's January camp as one of three goalkeepers on the roster. He did not feature in the U.S. national team’s 1-0 victory over Venezuela on Jan. 21, making way for Bill Hamid. Johnson got a chance in the following match, playing the second half against Panama four days later in Panama City to earn his second cap. The first came in a similar scenario, when he played the second half of a U.S. friendly against Chile in Jan., 2011.
"The [Panama] game was unbelievable. I was brought in the second half, with a man down, and you can’t ask for a better setting for a player to learn from," Johnson said. "I learned how to manage things in the game and what it's like to play in a different environment."
Specifically, these experiences let Johnson learn a lot about his mental and physical abilities as a player and allowed him to examine his full potential as a goalkeeper.
"You pick up many things here and there and those things stick with you in your memory," Johnson said. "It's all about experience at the end of the day. Whether you're on or off the field, it all comes together. I learned a lot about resting and taking care of yourself and was able to gain such knowledge in the offseason."
Johnson breaks from that offseason and enters arguably the biggest year of his professional career. On the club stage, he'll try and backstop the Fire to the playoffs after the club's two-year postseason hiatus. With the club's season opener a little more than a month away, Johnson's focus is squarely on getting the club over the hump.
"It’s important to make it to the playoffs this season," Johnson said. "It’s a huge thing for us to focus on."
Aside from his club responsibilities, Johnson is also looking at more time wearing a U.S. kit. After getting a call-up from Klinsmann, he hopes to get one from U.S. Under-23 coach Caleb Porter as well, as he looks ahead to CONCACAF Olympic qualifying. Between Johnson, Hamid and Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Zac MacMath, there is plenty of competition among young American goalkeepers for a place in next month's tournament — and if things go well, a place in London this summer.
"I can only do all I can to make the Olympics, and it’s all about how I conduct myself during the season," Johnson said. "It's definitely possible, and I want to put myself in the best position, because it the end, it's the coach's decision.
"I improved as a player mentally and physically. Coming off an entire MLS season and all my experiences combined in the offseason will make me better this season."