Fire

Sean Johnson happy to see familiar faces in return to Toyota Park

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USA TODAY

Sean Johnson happy to see familiar faces in return to Toyota Park

For seven years, Sean Johnson patrolled the posts for the Fire, but on Saturday he returned as a member of the away team.

Johnson and his New York City FC earned a point at Toyota Park to keep the Fire at arm’s length in the standings and hold onto the second spot in the Eastern Conference. When the game ended, Johnson was shaking hands, hugging and catching up with familiar faces.

“It’s good to be back,” Johnson said. “Having played here for seven years in my career, to be back where it all started and the fans that supported me throughout my career, it’s great.”

The Fire traded Johnson, who made 176 MLS appearances with the Fire, in the offseason to his hometown team of Atlanta as that team was preparing for its expansion season. However, Atlanta had the opportunity to land national team goalkeeper Brad Guzan and took it, making Johnson expendable. Johnson was then sent to NYCFC and news broke before his move to Atlanta was even official. Johnson has started 30 of 32 MLS games for his new team this season.

Johnson made one save in the 1-1 draw after being hung out to dry by teammate Maxi Moralez, who dribbled towards his own goal and then was stripped of the ball right in front, leaving Johnson with no chance to stop Nemanja Nikolic’s 21st goal of the season.

After David Villa tied things up before halftime, scoring his 20th of the season, NYCFC was able to get a positive result.

“I think it’s an important point given the other results that happened tonight,” Johnson said. “For us we’ll take the point. We’ll keep going. I think two games left, anything is possible. We just have to keep chugging along, get everybody healthy and ready to go into the postseason.”

NYCFC is three points ahead of Atlanta, although Atlanta has a game in hand, and four points ahead of the Fire for the second spot and the first-round bye that comes with it. The draw practically eliminated the Fire’s hopes of getting second.

[RELATED: Why Fire's draw against New York City FC could be a sign of things to come]

Johnson endured the Fire’s struggles in recent years, but sees a more organized team this season.

“They’ve done a good job,” he said. “They’ve organized themselves well so hats off to them, but it’s good to see some old faces, but some new ones as well.”

Fire rumored to be connected to former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas

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AP

Fire rumored to be connected to former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas

They don’t call it silly season in Europe for nothing.

The offseason rumors that pop up and, in some cases, happen make for good entertainment around the world of soccer. Sometimes those rumors are connected to MLS, whether or not the chances of them coming to fruition are high.

The latest example of this is Steven Goff of the Washington Post tweeting out a juicy rumor involving the Chicago Fire and former Real Madrid goalkeeper Iker Casillas.

Goff doesn’t sound very confident in it happening and there are plenty of reasons why, but there are also reasons why it could make sense. In this case, it makes sense for Casillas to be looking for a home to continue his career. When his contract at FC Porto expires at the end of this European season in June, he will be 37 years old.

It’s been two and a half years since he left Real Madrid, where he spent the rest of his career, and he’s not the elite goalkeeper he once was. If Casillas wants to keep playing he may not be able to stick at a Champions League club like Porto, and that’s where the MLS rumors come into play. It makes sense for Casillas to have interest in joining MLS.

On the Fire’s end, the team isn’t loaded at goalkeeper, although there are three keeprs under contract (Matt Lampson, Jorge Bava, Stefan Cleveland) with the possibility of a fourth (Richard Sanchez) also returning. The numbers logjam could be rectified without much problem if the Fire have a chance to snag Casillas.

His experience as a World Cup and Champions League winner (like Bastian Schweinsteiger), would be a nice addition to the team, regardless of age. Casillas was one of the best goalkeepers in the world and won Spain's La Liga five times and the Champions League three times in addition to winning the 2010 World Cup.

The question from the Fire’s perspective is if he could justify the high cost he would likely come with. Goalkeepers aren’t often highly paid players in MLS with the way the salary cap works. More flexibility has been added with more and more resources being given to teams from the league, but the cost of a player like Casillas may be difficult to justify at goalkeeper, even if he would provide another marketing and attendance boost like Schweinsteiger did.

This rumor makes for a good headline, but may not have much basis in reality. Still, there's a decent chance Casillas' name will continue to be connected with a move to MLS until he signs his next deal.

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

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USA TODAY

Fire's protected list for expansion draft hints at possible moves

The MLS offseason doesn't take long to get in gear.

The Fire traded Arturo Alvarez earlier on Sunday, the same day which the list of protected players was to be announced ahead of Tuesday's expansion draft for Los Angeles FC.

LAFC will take five players in the expansion draft, which is set for 1 p.m. on Tuesday. A team can only lose one player. Each team can protect 11 players and homegrown players aren't eligible for selection. For the Fire that means Drew Conner and Djordje Mihailovic can't be taken.

The Fire protected David Accam, Jonathan Campbell, Johan Kappelhof, Dax McCarty, Nemanja Nikolic, Juninho, Matt Polster, Richard Sanchez, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Luis Solignac and Brandon Vincent.

While Sanchez and Schweinsteiger are out of contract, the Fire have said they are negotiating with both players. Protecting Juninho is a bit of a surprise because it implies that the Fire have some intention of keeping him for next year, or at least keeping his rights to be traded.

The Fire left David Arshakyan, Jorge Bava, Brandt Bronico, Stefan Cleveland, Jorge Corrales, Michael de Leeuw, Christian Dean, Daniel Johnson and Matt Lampson unprotected. De Leeuw would be a worthwhile pickup for LA if it thinks he is worth it after his ACL tear suffered late in the season.

With only five players being selected it's fairly likely no Fire players are taken by LAFC, but it's arguable that de Leeuw will end up being one of the best five players available. The 31-year-old tied for the team lead with eight assists and scored three goals.