Fire goalkeeper Matt Lampson believes he is 'vastly improved' from last year

Matt Lampson is going through a bit of role reversal this year.

Last season, Lampson began the season as the Chicago Fire’s starting goalkeeper. Lampson took the spot even though longtime starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson was still on the roster. He started the first nine matches of the season, but made just two more starts in MLS play the rest of the way.

This year, things are reversed for Lampson. Johnson departed in the offseason, but the Fire brought in Jorge Bava and Bava made the first eight starts. Lampson waited for his chance and got it in the draw at LA on Saturday.

“I’ve been hoping for this the entire year,” Lampson said on Tuesday after training. “I came into the preseason vastly improved on last year, a lot more confidence and I was ready to go help the team win. That’s the number one thing is I’ve been really waiting for my opportunity to help the team win games and I’m glad that I finally got the opportunity.”

Lampson wasn’t credited with any saves, but wasn’t at fault for either of the goals he conceded in the 2-2 draw. The Fire led 2-0 at halftime and Lampson said it was the best first 45 minutes since coach Veljko Paunovic took over before last season.

Lampson said he focused on improving his footwork in the offseason, but it’s the mental side that has changed the most from a year ago.

“I’m not afraid to make mistakes anymore,” Lampson said. “Last year with Sean behind me I knew that there was a ton of pressure for him to play. At this point I’m just confident and I’m just out there playing.”

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With goalkeepers, if you’re not starting, you’re not playing unless the starter gets hurt. Despite entering the season with newfound confidence and belief in his ability, Lampson began the year as the No. 2 goalkeeper and not able to get on the field at all. Lampson was frustrated he couldn’t show what he believes was improvement in his game.

“It’s incredibly frustrating,” Lampson said. “Everybody always wants to play, but definitely you have to take positives out of it and you have to be mentally strong and be ready for your opportunity when it comes. The number one thing that keeps me going is I’m out here everyday for 30 minutes plus after every practice just improving on things not necessarily to get on the field, but I know it will pay off in the long run when I do get my opportunity. I think that’s what’s happening now.”

Lampson said Paunovic told him the Monday before the LA game that he would be starting. After training on Tuesday, Lampson said Paunovic hadn’t said anything regarding who would get the start Saturday against Seattle.

As Paunovic has said countless times in his Fire tenure, competition for spots in training is something he wants to see. Speaking of Lampson and fellow first-time starter Drew Conner, Paunovic was pleased with how they showed.

“Drew and Matt did well in this game,” Paunovic said. “They deserved it first and they helped the team and that’s the mentality that we forged even last year. We continued doing the same things that we believe are helpful for the team. We also know that our squad improved. The competition on the team is higher than before and that’s what we wanted.”

The 27-year-old Lampson is hoping he can make his starting job stick after being unable to hold down the position last year.

“It felt awesome to get back out there,” Lampson said. “I feel significantly better than I did last year at this time. Hopefully we put a few wins together.”