Sean Johnson's saves were few, but big in Fire's shutout victory

Sean Johnson's saves were few, but big in Fire's shutout victory

Sean Johnson didn’t have to make a save in the first 80 minutes of Wednesday’s game against Sporting Kansas City, but the Chicago Fire goalkeeper came up with a pair of big ones in the final minutes.

First, he dove to stop a curling Brad Davis free kick from just outside the box in the 81st minute. Then, he made a tougher save to keep out a Dom Dwyer header in the 87th minute. Johnson was credited with just those two saves for the shutout, his third of the season.

Forward Michael de Leeuw got all the attention for scoring the game’s only goal in his first start and first home match for the Fire, but Johnson’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed by the team. Coach Veljko Paunovic explained how he and de Leeuw were talking about Johnson’s big saves.

“On the way [to the postgame press conference] we were just talking about how important the goal was for us, but also [de Leeuw] mentioned and credit to him, ‘Sean saved us,’” Paunovic said. “Of course I would say that Sean also deserves to be here as one of the players who had a fantastic game. For us that’s what we were looking for.”

[SHOP: Get your own Fire jersey here]

Johnson didn’t play in the first nine matches of the season, but has started the last eight. Matt Lampson, who was the starting goalkeeper in the first portion of the season, has started the Fire’s two U.S. Open Cup matches since Johnson has won the starting job back.

Even though Johnson only had to make two saves, the Fire were under a lot of pressure throughout the match. Sporting KC had an overwhelming majority of the possession and had 19 shots in total, along with a number of free kicks from close range and corner kicks that put more pressure on both Johnson and the Fire’s defense.

“With Brad Davis coming in they had the ability to whip balls in,” Johnson said. “It was just an adjustment we had to make and we were able to do that tonight.

“I think all year we’ve made it a point to really key in on set pieces and be prepared and organized. We pride ourselves especially set pieces, free kicks, corner kicks and not conceding goals. Our setup has been fantastic since preseason. We’ve been working on it and everybody has bought in so I trust every single person that we have set up in the area. Everybody does their job and that’s the only way you’re going to come out with three points.”

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

Chicago isn't hosting the 2026 World Cup, but fans should still be excited

After failing to qualify to play in this summer’s World Cup, the United States’ pain was alleviated on Wednesday morning after earning a joint bid to host the 2026 World Cup.

But why is this bittersweet for Chicagoans?

Even though the World Cup will be hosted by the U.S., Mexico and Canada in eight years, matches will not be played in Chicago.

The city chose not to be one of the potential hosts of the world’s largest sporting event, despite using Soldier Field as a venue for the 1994 World Cup.

One of the reasons could be the low seating capacity of Chicago’s historic stadium. Soldier Field would be the second smallest spot out of any World Cup host option, seating only 61,500. The massive competition also draws enormous crowds, possibly causing logistical concerns for a highly-populated place like Chicago.

Ten out of 17 different cities in the United States will be gifted the opportunity to host 2026 World Cup games. The list includes Cincinnati (Paul Brown Stadium), Kansas City (Arrowhead Stadium) and Nashville (Nissan Stadium), which are the closest domestic locations to Chicago.

The bright side is that fans from the Midwest won’t have to travel very far to see a match. For bigtime soccer fans in the Chicago area, having the chance to attend world-class matches in United States could be exciting enough.

Out of the 80 games taking place in 2026, 60 of them will be located in the United States.

Can this bid with Mexico and Canada at least help the relevancy of U.S. Soccer in the Chicago area?

The U.S. men’s national team missed this year’s World Cup at a very unideal time, just when it seemed like the sport of soccer was gaining more and more popularity in the United States.

Plus, the United States might not even get an automatic bid to play in their own World Cup as hosts.

But becoming a member of the first trio in FIFA history to host the World Cup, coupled with the expanded 48-team field in 2026, could help the United States retain the fans they have across the nation and around Chicago.

The World Cup might not be coming to the Windy City, but Chicagoans will still have something to be excited about in 2026 with games being played right around the corner. If the U.S. can qualify for the upcoming World Cups, having the tournament in North America will be much sweeter.

Until then, the 2018 World Cup kicks off this Thursday night in Russia.

Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?


Ever wonder what a Portillo's soccer jersey would look like?

Portillo's has become a staple in the Chicagoland area due to its popular hot dogs, Italian beef sandwiches and now, its soccer jerseys.

OK, maybe one of these does not belong with the others. Regardless, Twitter user @JTHazzard created mock-up soccer jerseys mashing MLS teams and restaurants based in that team's city, and the Portillo's jersey is sweet. 

From the Portillo's logo taking center-stage to the picnic blanket pattern to the discrete Chicago Fire logo, this jersey is absolutely brilliant. The only change this writer would make is including the logo below instead.

Valspar is the current sponsor featured on the Fire's uniforms. If the team ever needs a new sponsor, though, Portillo's would be an excellent replacement.