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Sean Johnson: The best goalkeeper in the playoffs is underestimated again

The NYCFC captain made a season-high seven saves in New York City's upset win over CF Montréal, but MLS pundits can't be bothered to take note

MLS: Audi 2022 MLS Cup Playoffs Conference Semifinals-New York City FC at FC Montreal
That’s Sean Johnson
Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

FotMob didn’t think much of the quality of play in yesterday's Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup between New York City FC and CF Montréal. No player in the NYCFC win earned a rating of 8 or higher, never mind the god-like 9.1 bestowed on Maxi Moralez in last Monday’s win over Inter Miami.

Instead, the football soccer analysis website and app handed out a few ratings of 7.9, and gave Player of the Match honors to Montréal midfielder Alistair Johnston even though he didn’t score, didn’t register an assist, and was on the losing side of the 1-3 scoreline. It was a strange choice for the algorithm to make given that NYCFC goalkeeper and captain Sean Johnson made a season-high seven saves, and was arguably the single reason why Montréal vastly underperformed their xG, scoring just one consolation goal late in the game despite enjoying 63.9% possession, taking 18 shots, and creating eight big chances according to FotMob.

In other words, NYCFC won because Johnson was in the goal.

According to GameFlow, Montréal should have scored three to four goals, while FotMob put it between two and three. No matter: Johnson held Montréal to just one goal even though they were playing at home.

Still, the lack of appreciation for Johnson’s performance in this game leaves us scratching our collective heads. Last Thursday, after Philadelphia Union goalkeeper André Blake kept a clean sheet against FC Cincinnati in the other Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup, his praises were sung by the MLS punditry and FotMob named him the best player in the match. “‘Dre Day: Blake’s heroics lead Philadelphia Union into Eastern Final,” read the headline of Tom Bogert’s article for MLS.com, and while we agree that Blake is an exceptional goalkeeper, we’d like to point out that his heroic stand was a five-save performance at home against the No 5 seed in the Eastern Conference.

Johson’s seven-save performance on the road against the No 2 seed was mentioned in passing in Michael Singh’s piece for MLS.com, but only after discussing former head coach Ronny Deila going to Standard Liége, Taty Castellanos leaving for Girona FC, and the club’s late summer swoon that threatened to derail the season.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but: Blake is a hero for making five saves at home against a lower-seeded team that Philadelphia were picked to defeat, and Johnson is an afterthought for making seven saves on the road in an upset win that proved all the oddsmakers wrong?

Cool. Glad we have that straight.

It’s good to know that the rest of MLS continues to under-appreciate the quality of the players at NYCFC, and underestimate what this team is capable of accomplishing.