2011 was a tale of two seasons for the Fire.
In their first 24 games, the Men in Red won just two matches and coach Carlos de los Cobos was fired. In their final nine games, however, the Fire went 6-2-1 and finished just three points out of a playoff spot.
Given the way they closed out the season, the Fire have high hopes for 2012. And the man that plays a key part in that is 23-year-old goalie Sean Johnson.
Now entering his third season, Johnson has had his ups and downs. He lost his starting job briefly last season. But he's also seen as one of the best young goalies in America, playing on the U-23 national team and spending a week training with U.S. Olympic starting goalie Tim Howard with his Premier League team in Everton.
While Johnson had very little time off during the offseason, he's ready to assume his spot in goal for the Fire, but first he'll be competing with the U.S. team for Olympic qualifying. He'll miss the Fire's home opener Saturday at Toyota Park and will next be available to the team April 15.
Johnson talked to RedEye recently about his development, losing his starting job and his busy offseason.
How's camp been going so far?
It's been going well. We're back in Chicago, we've been training for a couple days. It's been good for me and the boys to get back and it and start the season off strong.
This is your third season in the league, do you feel you have more of a perspective on what to expect this year?
I think I have more of a perspective on how to approach the year is a better way to put it. Playing in the league for two years has been a valuable experience. It's going to be up to me to put it all together in my third year, to attack the season and get the guys out to a good start on the right foot. The last couple seasons we've started a little bit slow, so I think it's going to be a test for us to get started on the right foot and get going quickly.
As you mentioned, the Fire had a rough start last season. What was the key to turning it around?
Just working as a team as a whole and focusing on the team aspect is what made us successful. Getting back to the basic things that drove our team to win games, and we got better as a group. When we got back to those things we were true to ourselves and started to win games.
You briefly lost the starting job last year. What was going through your mind at the time and how did you get through that?
It was just one of those things. It was the coach's decision. He made a decision to take me out and you just have to deal with it. It made me stronger, it builds character. It wasn't long until I got back in, but it made me stronger as a player and a person. At the end of the day, you can only put your best foot forward and try to do what it takes to help your team win games, and that's what I try to do.
What's the No. 1 thing that will make this team successful?
I think most important is going to be consistency. We need to find that level of play that will carry us week in and week out and carry us to the playoffs. If we can win games at a consistent basis this year we can be in position to be in contention for the playoffs.
You didn't have much of an offseason this year. You were all over the place. How are you feeling after the busy offseason?
I feel good. I've done a good job coordinating with my club in Chicago here to get the rest I need to be able to be 100 percent for the season. It's important to keep yourself fresh so you can keep going and get the rest you need to be able to perform day in and day out. I stayed in contact with my club to keep them in the loop to make sure I would be able to come in here and be ready to go and be fresh the duration of the season.
You got to spend a week with Tim Howard. What did you guys talk about?
Honestly pretty much everything. We got to touch on all bases. We talked about normal life as well as life on the field. He's a normal person so we just kind of connected on that level. I was able to get a perspective on what it was like to play at that level, what it takes on and off the field. Just being around him and being able to experience things he does on his daily activities was good. He's very professional and carries himself in a very good manner. It was a good experience for me to be around him to learn and to make myself a better player.
You've been able to play soccer around the world, and looking at soccer in America it seems like it's becoming more and more popular. Do you notice that?
Yeah. You play in different situations whether in a different league or in Germany or different national teams and just getting those experiences is very valuable. Especially being able to train with a Premier League team. I think it's the best league in the world and it's a great environment to be in to make yourself better. Soccer here in America has come a long way. We're getting to a point where we're competing with teams all around the world. All the guys who have been in the league past and present feel like the league is getting stronger and stronger. It's been great for me to experience different things and be back here in Chicago.
What was the highlight of your non-soccer offseason?
I got some time to myself and spent some time with the family. I had some time to go back home for Christmas and to spend the holiday with them was special and I got to spend a week and a half with my family. It's always good to get that time.
Scott Bolohan is a RedEye special contributor.