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Sean Johnson committed to US task ... but goalie not letting go Jamaican roots

Published:Thursday | September 6, 2012 | 12:00 AM
Sean Johnson
United States assistant goalie Sean Johnson. - photos by US Soccer federation website

Gordon Williams, Gleaner Writer

The chance of Sean Johnson playing against Jamaica in tomorrow's crucial World Cup Qualifier at the National Stadium is probably the same as a snowstorm blasting Half-Way Tree. Next to zero.

Yet, it's equally unlikely any other member of the United States' senior national men's football squad will be more eager to visit 'The Office' than their 23-year-old reserve goalkeeper.

Johnson cannot escape his deep Jamaican connection. He has "family all over" the island, where both parents - father Everet from St James and mother Joy of Manchester - were born. They now live in the US, where Johnson was born in the state of Georgia.

"I think it's exciting, having my cultural roots there," said Johnson on Tuesday from the US training camp in Florida, two days before the team was due to depart for Jamaica. "... It's special for me."

However, he erases any potential conflict of allegiance, his full focus being on helping the US win the first of two Group A CONCACAF semi-final matches over four days against the Reggae Boyz.

"There's no mixed emotions," Johnson explained. "I'm happy playing for the US. We're going down there to do a job."

Johnson is also sure his parents will have no split loyalties for the game tomorrow either.

"They root for me," he said. "They support me as their child."

By his own admission, Johnson was raised in a Jamaican household. He enjoys reggae music and lists dishes such as oxtail among his favourite. His father's best friend, who he claims as "pretty much my second family", is from Kingston. Johnson used to visit Jamaica regularly, staying mostly in Montego Bay.

"Up to high school I went two or three times a year, usually during summer and Christmas holidays," he said.

committed to the US

His American teammates are aware of his background too. But, Johnson said "there's really no reaction to it" as they know he's committed to the US. It's unlikely Johnson will abandon his Jamaican roots anytime soon, however. Nor does he want to.

"I feel like (Jamaica) is home away from home," Johnson said several years ago. "I'm used to the culture there and I'm used to the culture here (in the US)."

On Tuesday he was more pointed about blending in on the island.

"I don't feel out of place there," Johnson said.

He holds a Jamaican and American passport. Why he's playing for the US may have less to do with Johnson's love for Jamaica than Jamaica's feelings for him. Twice he tried to represent the country - first at Under-17 and later Under-20.

"It was kind of hard for me," Johnson said years ago of the decision. "I was born in the US and wanted to play for the US. But Jamaica came up."

After he didn't receive a recall following participation in a Jamaica Under-20 camp, Johnson accepted an invitation from the US. He ended up in the American squad trying to make it to the 2009 FIFA Under-20 World Cup. US qualified. Jamaica didn't.

The 6'3", 215lb Johnson left the University of Central Florida early to turn professional. He is now the starting goalie for the Chicago Fire in Major League Soccer, North America's premier competition.

But it has not all been a smooth ride in red, white and blue. Johnson recently played for the US Olympic team and conceded a soft goal in a crucial qualifying match that helped sink the US bid for a spot at the Games in London. Johnson doesn't dwell on the mistake, chalking it up to experience.

"I don't think about it," he said Tuesday.

Johnson has earned one US cap at the senior international level - a substitute's appearance against Chile in January 2011. However, he was a member of the squad which travelled to Estadio Azteca and beat CONCACAF rivals Mexico 1-0 on August 15, a first for the US.

Still, Johnson remains on the fringes of the national set-up. Tim Howard is entrenched as the US starting keeper. His current back-up is Brad Guzan, another accomplished pro. Johnson is further down the pecking order. He acknowledges the quality ahead of him, knowing he must await his shot at first choice.

"I think I'm patient," Johnson said. "US has very good goalkeepers now."

After tomorrow's game he heads back to his club, replaced by Nick Rimando in the US squad for the September 11 return leg against Jamaica in Columbus, Ohio. But Johnson arrived in the US camp on Monday keen to stay in coach Jurgen Klinsmann's plans for competition down the road.

"I'm ready to get back in and work hard," he told after learning he was named in the US squad.

"... I'm excited to meet and work with some guys that I've never played with before and just work towards being part of that core."

It's a group bound tightly by the Stars and Stripes of the US flag, a symbol Johnson holds dear. But that doesn't mean he'll abandon the Jamaican roots from which he sprung.