Toronto FC lands new No. 1 goalkeeper in US international Sean Johnson

February 23, 2023

Toronto FC filled the void in goal Friday by signing U.S. international Sean Johnson until 2024.

The 33-year-old free agent has spent the past six seasons with New York City FC and is entering his 14th season in Major League Soccer. He was at the height of his game, playing all 34 regular-season games for New York City FC last year, recording a career-high 14 clean sheets while earning his first-ever Major League Baseball All-Star selection.

The 6-foot-3, 216-pound player has appeared in 400 games for the New York and Chicago Fires in all competitions since entering the league in 2010.

“Shawn is one of the top goaltenders in Major League Soccer and we are delighted that he has chosen Toronto FC as his new club,” Toronto President Bill Manning said in a statement. “Shawn is a true leader on and off the court, and his experience, winning mentality and shot-blocking ability will help solidify our defense.”

Johnson has capped 10 times for the U.S. national team and was part of the U.S. team at the recent World Cup in Qatar. He was on the bench in Team USA’s 2-1 loss to Serbia in Los Angeles on Wednesday.

The U.S. hosts Columbia in Carson, Calif., on Saturday.

After Toronto conceded 66 goals last season, tied for the bottom of the team, upgrading the goalie position has become a priority. Alex Bono and Quentin Westerberg shared starting duties for the past four years before they left — Bono to D.C. United and Westerberg to Atlanta United.

“Shawn has established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in Major League Soccer given his career with club and country,” said Toronto head coach and athletic director Bob Bradley. “Sean continued to display his outstanding interception, athleticism and decision-making skills in big moments and in the most important games.”

TFC has 29-year-old Greg Ranjitsingh, last year’s third stringer, and 22-year-old Tomas Romero as backup.

Johnson was acquired through a targeted allocation of funds that can be used to sign a new player as long as his salary and acquisition costs are above last season’s maximum salary budget of $612,500.

Given that Johnson is a free agent, there is no acquisition cost this time around.

Johnson will earn $550,000 in 2022, compared with Bono’s $557,000 and Westerberg’s $313,585.

Also on Friday, NYCFC acquired goaltender Matt Frith from the Philadelphia Union in exchange for general allocation money. The league will receive $200,000 in GAM in 2023, $150,000 in 2024, a percentage of future transfer fees and an additional $400,000 if certain performance conditions are met.

In Philadelphia, Ferris was the backup for Andre Blake, MLS Goalie of the Year.

Johnson is the second former club captain to join TFC in the offseason. Veteran linebacker Matt Hedges, who signed as a free agent in December, captained Dallas for eight seasons.

Italian star Lorenzo Insigne captained Napoli before joining Toronto last July. Midfielder Michael Bradley, son of Bob Bradley, is a long-time TFC captain.

Johnson has a long history in Toronto.

In the 2019 Eastern Conference semifinals, Alejandro Pozuelo beat him with a 90th-minute free throw in Toronto’s dramatic 2-1 win over New York City.

Pozuelo beat Johnson on four of five free throws for Toronto.

Johnson has played 370 regular-season and playoff appearances in the MLS since being drafted by the Chicago Fire in the fourth round (No. 51 overall) of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft as a first-generation adidas player.

It’s a shrewd choice. During Johnson’s seven years in Chicago, he made 176 regular-season starts, made 548 saves, made 36 saves and averaged 1.42 goals per game.

But his playing time dwindled under new head coach Veljko Paunovic in 2016 as Chicago finished last in the league.

He was traded to Atlanta United in December 2016 in an expansion draft. Chicago shipped Johnson to Atlanta for $100,000 in general allocation funds. The “gatekeeper” was then immediately transferred to NYCFC for a general allocation of $100,000 and a directed allocation of $50,000.

Since then, he’s been NYCFC’s No. 1 player and led the team to the MLS Cup title in 2021. He was named MLS Cup MVP for his 4-2 penalty shootout win over his hometown Portland Timbers, which saw him beat Felipe Moura and Diego Valeri.

NYC FC sporting director David Lee said in a statement: “Sean has been a leader and a fantastic professional since the day he arrived here, and ultimately in our winning streak at the club. Such an important role in the course of the inaugural MLS Cup in 2021.”

“Shawn has given everything for this club since he arrived, but we understand his decision to take on a new challenge and do what he thinks is best for him and his family,” Lee added. “We just wish him the best in the next phase of his career.”

Johnson played 767 consecutive minutes for the United States at the World Cup in Qatar, conceding just one goal in his international career. That was eight minutes after his international debut – a 1-1 draw with Chile in Carson, California, in January 2011.

The Georgia native of Lear himself, whose parents are 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 committee of the MLS Black Players for Change.

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