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Fire GK Johnson steps into limelight

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Second-year goalkeeper Sean Johnson's rise has had a feel-good aura to it. For Chicago Fire players, fans and supporters, there were not a whole lot of high points to the 2010 campaign, so Johnson's showcase in the net naturally has stood out.

The 2010 fourth-round draft pick opened last preseason as the projected third-string option, earned the starting job by July, regularly garnered MLS Save of the Week nominations, helped the Generation adidas team post an unbeaten run during its trip to Spain in December, and then earned his first international cap during the U.S.'s 1-1 draw against Chile in January.

"He's only in his second year, but he's a winner," Fire captain and defensive midfielder Logan Pause said. "He just has the charisma and he has the personality to help lead."

Johnson's role with Chicago will be more magnified this year now that he has established himself as the team's No. 1 goalkeeper.

"Even though I gained experience last season, it definitely didn't end up the way I wanted it to end," Johnson said. "I think we got off to a bit of a slow start, and this year it's important to come out of the gates to set ourselves up to have a good season. More than anything, we just have to put it all together and develop some consistency."

Johnson will have a different defensive group in front of him -- one that lost its two central backs in C.J. Brown and Wilman Conde. And the team will need to have some personnel step into more of a leadership role, having lost veteran Brian McBride to retirement.

"I think they've done a great job of scouting talent and bringing talent in," Johnson said. "There are always going to be offseasons where you're looking at your team in different areas, especially losing guys like C.J. and Brian. But we gained experience from those guys, and now we've got to take that and pass that to the new guys coming in."

Earning the opportunity to play for the American squad obviously was a high moment for Johnson this winter.

"That has always been a dream to play at the highest level for my country," Johnson said. "Playing with them will do wonders for my game. Working with Nick Rimando, Matt Pickens and those guys was a great experience. I learned a few things from guys who have been around a lot longer than I have, and I'll try to apply it to this season."

Johnson's quick rise will be a season-long focal point for this Fire squad as the 21-year-old has plugged away with a non-stop offseason on the pitch.

"I'm going to have to balance it out and give my body a rest every now and then," Johnson said. "It's been a long offseason for me as far as playing. I haven't had much of a break. I just need to make sure that my body is set to go. When the season comes, I'll be fine. I'm young."

Umanzor released: The Fire officially parted ways with defender Deris Umanzor on Wednesday. Umanzor played in 10 games for Chicago during the 2010 season. The Fire already are set at left defensive back with Gonzalo Segares, and it is expected that Umanzor is looking to return to Salvadoran club Aguila.