Sean Johnson has been privy to the drama that often followed NYCFC over the years.
The goalkeeper has been a part of some teams in the Bronx that had championship aspirations, featuring world-class stars in the twilight of their careers, but have fallen well short of such high expectations.
Making more of an unexpected run to the MLS Cup Final in 2021 — their first-ever appearance in club history — Johnson backstopped NYCFC through some more dramatic moments: First making the save that was the difference in the team’s Eastern Conference semifinal shootout against New England Revolution before captaining them past a resilient Philadelphia Union side that was ravaged by COVID but still gave the New Yorkers a run for their money in a comeback victory.
The drama only continued in Saturday night’s final in Portland when Taty Castellanos’ goal was finally canceled out by the Timbers’ Felipe Mora’s last-second equalizer that proved to be the last kick of regulation time.
Tentatively meandering its way to a shootout, Johnson — with a large portion of NYCFC’s fate in his hands — eliminated any more inklings of drama for the Cityzens.
The 32-year-old keeper who has been with the club since 2017 and was wearing the captain’s armband on Saturday saved the first two Timbers’ shootout attempts to put NYCFC firmly in the driver’s seat.
Johnson dove to his right and used a strong right hand to deny the opening attempt by the goal-scorer Mora before — following a failed attempt by New York’s Alfredo Morales — doing the same exact thing in the same exact fashion to Portland’s Diego Valeri.
“I was doing my best to make a save for my team,” Johnson said. “I was happy to make two. The guys stepped up in a big way.”
How about that for ending a 321-game wait before playing in your first-ever MLS Cup Final?
Maxi Moralez, Talles Magno, and Alexander Callens converted from the spot, and New York City had its first pro sports championship in a decade.
“It feels unbelievable to be able to call ourselves champions,” Johnson said. “What a ride so far, this journey was crazy this year, so many ups, so many downs and we talked amongst ourselves before the game and said it’s a massive opportunity to make it all worth it. This is what we live for, these moments. To be the MVP of the [MLS Cup Final], it means the whole world, but it means so much more to lift a cup for this club.”
A more than deserving moment for the veteran keeper, who made 145 appearances with NYCFC before finally getting his hands on MLS’ biggest prize.
“For me, he’s the big, big winner. He wins us this game in the end,” NYCFC manager Ronny Deila said. “The way he speaks to the team, the way he goes in front every day in training and brings people together and also when the big moments are coming, how he stands out time after time, he’s a winner, a real winner, and a leader. He’s a captain the whole club should be really proud of.”