New York City FC: Sean Johnson masking a larger problem

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - March 24: Goalkeeper Sean Johnson
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - March 24: Goalkeeper Sean Johnson /

New York City FC were outclassed against the Houston Dynamo, and it isn’t the first time. Are there bigger problems that Sean Johnson can’t always hide?

New York City FC shot out of the gates at the start of the MLS season. And they weren’t even scoring a ton of goals. They were mostly playing good, hardy defense in the midfield and at the back.

But things have changed now. Their defense ranks eighth in the Eastern Conference and 16th in MLS as a whole. While they have found more joy scoring goals, their inability to keep them out – yet again – is a troubling development.

It’s still too soon to hit the panic button, but when you look at how things could be (much worse), you start to see a developing trend that Sean Johnson has done masterfully to hide.

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Against the Dynamo was a microcosm of that problem. They didn’t just give up three goals. They were pelted by a superior attack, handed chances over to the opposition and, on numerous occasions, were left baffled as to how the Dynamo were finding it so easy to find space and get shots on goal.

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It was a sleep-walking defensive effort that didn’t exist at the start of the year. At least not as much.

Suffice to say, again, using the Dynamo match as an example, Sean Johnson has kept things manageable. So many of the saves he made against Houston he had no business saving. He has been a masterclass this year, racking up the second-most saves in MLS.

Which is a good and a bad thing. It’s good because New York City FC have a reliable keeper who can keep them in games. It’s bad because, when you look at what other keepers are up there around Johnson on the save charts, there’s a clear theme. Most of them are in the lower half of their conference.

Meaning that New York City FC’s defense is about as prone to strong attacking forces as the likes of Philadelphia or Real Salt Lake. This is made even clearer when you look at shots faced – Johnson is third. That isn’t the company they should be keeping.

This isn’t the only time Johnson has come to the rescue. It’s been a theme this year, including some of the bigger games, like against Atlanta United in Atlanta.

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Again, this isn’t the end of the world. When one part of the team slacks, having another part to step up is what makes a team great. But it’s time for the defense to get their wits back about them.