Sean Johnson

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.”

Sean Johnson’s two trades another example of unnecessarily poor optics in MLS

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Sean Johnson’s two trades another example of unnecessarily poor optics in MLS

Those who closely follow Major League Soccer know that the league does not make transparency the highest priority.

The league’s salary cap has a number of convoluted and at times confusing rules. One example is the concept of allocation money.

MLS has two kinds of allocation money. There’s targeted allocation money (TAM), which has more restrictions, but is basically used to minimize the cap hit on players that would be designated players so they don’t take up one of a team’s three designated player slots. There’s also general allocation money (GAM), which has fewer restrictions, but is still used to lessen a player’s cap hit.

If you’re confused, that’s OK. That just means you’re paying attention.

This is relevant because of the two trades involving Sean Johnson this morning. The Fire’s longtime goalkeeper was traded this morning to Atlanta for general allocation money. The trade was agreed upon days ago, but couldn’t be made official until the offseason officially started the day after MLS Cup, which took place Saturday.

It was going to be a move for him to go to his hometown club in its expansion year. On the surface, this could have been a goodwill move by the Fire. Allow the Atlanta area native Johnson, who was the longest tenured player on the roster in 2016, to go home even if it meant getting only intangible assets in return for a popular player.

It didn’t play out that way once it was reported that Atlanta was lining up to sign American national team goalkeeper Brad Guzan. Suddenly, Johnson was unnecessary for Atlanta.

However, the trade with the Fire was agreed to days before it could be made official and still went through on Sunday even after Atlanta had Guzan in mind. When Atlanta flipped Johnson to New York City FC, which officially happened minutes later, it received both kinds of allocation money, targeted and general.

Without knowing the amount of allocation money that changed hands, the amount is never announced in trades like these, it appears on the surface that the Fire got less in return for the same player. Atlanta received two acronyms for Johnson after giving the Fire one acronym. In that way it appears that Atlanta basically day-traded Johnson to get more for him within minutes.

That may not be the case. The dollar amounts could be different, but MLSSoccer.com’s Andrew Wiebe dropped this:

Without knowing the numbers it’s impossible to say if the Fire took less compensation to send Johnson to his hometown team, in essence doing Johnson a favor only to see Atlanta find a replacement for Johnson, before he was even officially a member of the club, and flip him to another team immediately.

The Fire have lost a lot of good will thanks to back-to-back last place finishes so fans don’t require much evidence to wonder if this is just an example of getting outmaneuvered. The point is it might not be and we don’t know because there isn’t enough transparency in MLS. Instead of what could have been a goodwill gesture to a long-serving player, the optics are that the Fire may have allowed Atlanta to skim off the top for the pleasure of being the middleman in a trade the Fire could have just made to NYCFC directly.

It's official: Fire trade Sean Johnson

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USA TODAY

It's official: Fire trade Sean Johnson

It wasn’t a well kept secret that Sean Johnson was being traded by the Chicago Fire in advance of Tuesday’s expansion draft, but the twist is that Johnson isn’t landing in Atlanta as originally expected.

Days after word of the Johnson trade to Atlanta broke, ESPN’s Taylor Twellman reported that American national team goalkeeper Brad Guzan would be signing for the expansion club for the 2017 season. That made Atlanta’s acquisition of Johnson, an Atlanta area native, somewhat unnecessary.

Suddenly, instead of leaving Chicago to become the starting goalkeeper at his hometown club, Johnson was looking at being a backup to a national teamer.

Johnson's move became official on Sunday during the league's three-hour trading window before the expansion draft. The Fire traded Johnson to Atlanta United FC for general allocation money. Johnson was then immediately shipped to New York City FC for both general and targeted allocation money.

Johnson, 27, had been with the Fire his entire pro career since being drafted in 2010. Johnson was by far the longest tenured player on the Fire’s roster. His departure, along with Razvan Cocis not having his option picked up in November, means Collin Fernandez now takes over that title. Fernandez signed with the Fire as a homegrown player in August of 2014, but wasn’t eligible to play with the first team until 2015.

Johnson penned a thank you letter to Fire fans upon his exit, which was posted on the Fire's official website.

"This is by far one of the toughest things I’ve ever had to put in words," Johnson said. "The past seven years has been an incredible journey starting with a dream turned into an opportunity, eventually becoming a place that I am proud to call home. I never thought this day would come, but unfortunately this chapter of my life is coming to a close."

Johnson totaled 176 regular season appearances with the Fire in seven seasons. He also started the Fire’s only playoff match in those seven years. Johnson leaves the Fire with the ninth most appearances in club history, second among goalkeepers behind Zach Thornton.

This past season Johnson made 22 starts in goal after sitting the first nine matches of the season while Matt Lampson began the season as the apparent No. 1. Johnson figures to contend with NYCFC's returning goalkeeper Josh Saunders, who has started 66 of the club's 68 matches.

The move means the Fire have an opening at goalkeeper. Whether or not Matt Lampson becomes the No. 1, as he was for the start of 2016, the Fire only have one goalkeeper under contract after declining Patrick McLain’s option.

The trade also marks the second offseason in a row that one of the most popular players on the club was traded away. In February, homegrown player and former Rookie of the Year finalist Harry Shipp was traded to Montreal.

In addition, the Fire could have as few as one player unprotected ahead of the expansion draft. The Fire can protect 11 players and homegrowns aren’t eligible to be selected. The Fire currently have 16 players under contract and four of those are homegrowns, meaning only 12 players are eligible for the expansion draft and would need to be protected. The list of protected players comes out tomorrow.