Sean Johnson keeps composure for East-leading New York City FC

NYCFC holds a three-point cushion over Philadelphia Union for the top seed in the East ahead of Saturday’s match against visiting San Jose.

During a season in which “Next Man Up” has been the mentality for New York City FC, goalkeeper Sean Johnson has been one of the team’s anchors.

Johnson’s steady play in net all season was punctuated by his dramatic save in Wednesday’s match at Yankee Stadium against Toronto FC, which resulted in a 1-1 draw and continued the Blues’ point streak. NYCFC (15-5-9, 54 points) hasn’t lost in a month, winning five straight matches before escaping with a point against fourth-place Toronto (11-10-9, 42 points) and inching closer to securing the coveted top playoff seed in the Eastern Conference.

The keeper’s leadership was on display against Toronto FC. Johnson received a yellow card for defending one of his teammates, then regained his composure to save a 78th minute penalty kick from Alejandro Pozuelo, who beat him on a first-half penalty kick to tie the contest. The save was pivotal for a team that was shorthanded going into the match.

“In the moment, in was instinctual,” Johnson said afterward. “It’s difficult, but I wanted to stay as calm in the situation as possible.”

The Blues now have a three-point lead over the Philadelphia Union for first place in the East. They next host the Western Conference foe San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday in the Bronx.

“We’re in a position where we’re pushing to finish in first. [Other teams] are pushing to cement themselves in the playoffs,” Johnson said. “[The Toronto match] was similar to what you’ll see in a lot of playoff games. It wasn’t easy to play, a lot of emotion in the game.”

Consistency in goal has been crucial for the NYCFC during the late summer. Between international call-ups, suspensions and a major loss with an injury to top goal scorer Héber, the team has relied on its veterans and depth. The 30-year-old Johnson, now in his third season as the team’s primary keeper, has seen the team grow together during his time in New York.

“No matter who it is, we have guys ready to step in and get the job done," he said. "From wingers, to strikers, to defenders, to goalkeepers, we have a solid core of guys. It’s one thing we take pride in. Everyone has to step up.”

Chris Longo