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Sean Johnson joins Toronto FC

The goalkeeper leaves after six stellar seasons at NYCFC, helped transform an expansion team into an MLS Cup-winning club.

O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won.
– Walt Whitman

Goalkeeper Sean Johnson officially joined Toronto FC earlier this morning, confirming a rumor that first surfaced more than three weeks ago. The former New York City FC captain leaves after six years at New York City, where he helped transform a shaky backline and a generally uneven squad into a team that not only won the MLS Cup in 2021, but that have put together one of the best cumulative records in the league and now count among the most elite teams in MLS. 

Likewise, Johnson has established himself as one of the best goalkeepers in the league along with Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union), and Matt Turner (formerly of New England Revolution). Johnson logged 14 clean sheets in 2022, one behind Blake. By comparison, Toronto posted only three clean sheets last year, which put them solidly in last place in MLS.

But Johnson will forever be a part of NYCFC lore for his performances in the 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs. First, there was his penalty shootout save in the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the heavily favored New England Revolution: Johnson blocked the attempt by striker Adam Buksa, giving NYCFC the upset win. Then there were two saves he made in the 2021 MLS Cup Final against Portland Timbers in front of a deafening crowd at Providence Park: First he saved the attempt by striker Felipe Mora, then the attempt by Timbers legend Diego Valeri. Johnson deservedly was named MVP for his performance that rainy afternoon.

We could re-watch the full 7:33 over and over again.

The 33-year-old goalkeeper, who was named to the United States Men’s National Team that played in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, was out of contract with NYCFC as of December 31, 2022. It was understood that he was looking to make more than the $550,000 in guaranteed salary he was paid last season, but that he wasn’t able to come to terms with the club. While his new salary with Toronto wasn’t disclosed, the club announced that Johnson is signed through the end of the 2024 season using Targeted Allocation Money.

The move to Toronto shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody who’s been paying attention.

Nevertheless, it signals the end of an era at NYCFC. With Johnson’s departure, the spine of the squad that won the 2021 MLS Cup have now officially all left, and now New York City will embark on the most comprehensive rebuild in club history

The following statement from Sean Johnson was released by NYCFC earlier today:

Thank you, NYC!

The past six years have truly been incredible. I joined this Club as part of a trade from Atlanta United in 2017. I thought I was heading home to Georgia, but I ended up building a new one in this amazing city.

I arrived with a chip on my shoulder – that New Yorker mentality — based on how things shook out with Atlanta, and when they won MLS Cup in 2018 it only stoked the fire in me to bring that same success to this Club and this city.

I quickly realized I was wanted here and I found a family – not just in my teammates and coaches, but with you, the fans.

That bond allowed us to survive the tough moments together and celebrate the successes too.

You always held us accountable and you always gave us your support.

At Yankee Stadium, at Citi Field, wherever we went, you followed. There are countless games I look back on, but I remember in Philadelphia and Portland in 2021, when those goals went in, to hear that silence and then your roar fill that stadium, it still gives me goosebumps.

It was an honor to be your captain.

One of my first conversations at this Club was with goalkeeping coach Rob Vartughian. We talked about the culture of this city, about my goals, and I saw firsthand this Club’s commitment to excellence.

Just like you fans, Rob gave me honesty every time I needed it and his standards never wavered. To see that level of consistency, year in and year out, and the impact he’s had on myself and the team from day one is something I will forever appreciate. Love you brother.

Together we lifted MLS Cup, Campeones Cup, and I achieved a childhood dream of being selected to represent my country at a World Cup.

In Rob, Nick, and the rest of the players and staff I know the Club is in great hands. They carry those same standards, and now Nick can drive things forward as Head Coach.

Lastly, I want you to know I’ll cherish every moment with this organization.

My time in New York has come to an end, but the memories we made will live on eternally.

Until next time, New York, forever blue