Opportunities abound for NYCFC’s Eirik Johansen

by CHRISTIAN ARAOS

PURCHASE, N.Y. – Eirik Johansen won’t know until this weekend, but the young goalkeeper said he is confident and prepared to make New York City FC’s first playoff match his second career start.

“My debut is out of the way,” Johansen said. “I had a decent game in Mexico so I’m going into the playoffs with a lot of confidence in my ability. I can be in the starting eleven and I can go and play. Saying that, Josh [Saunders] has made some major improvements during the year, especially playing with his feet, and he’s been solid.

“We just want to keep pushing each other and make it as difficult for the coach as possible.”

Johansen made six saves in his league debut last weekend against Columbus Crew SC but his first league start came months later than expected. Head coach Patrick Vieira had wanted to get Johansen a start in goal much earlier in the year but Saunders’ form kept Johansen to only making an appearance in the U.S. Open Cup. Johansen completed 14 of 17 passes to a backline that he said took some time to communicate well with.

“We figured it out during the game, we were better in the second half. I think we were bit high at times so they had a few balls in behind that could have been more dangerous than they turned out to be. We figured that out in the second half and the second half was even more solid.”

As training concluded Wednesday, Vieira huddled his team together and told them he was pleased that most of his team is healthy and in-form. He has admitted that picking a matchday roster and a starting lineup has become more difficult.

Goalkeeper is showing to be no different.

“I still have a few days before I make a decision and of course, it is an important decision,” Vieira said. “I’m really happy with Eirik’s performance against Columbus. I was really happy with how Josh has played the season so far but we are going through a critical period where I have to make some decisions and that is one of them.”

Judging from last week, Vieira won’t make his decision until Saturday…maybe even Sunday. Johansen is more comfortable playing the ball with his feet in large part due to his experience playing outfield for youth teams in Norway. He also learned the comfort as part of Manchester City Academy’s modern approach to goalkeeping where goalkeepers take part in possession drills.

Saunders is a shot-stopper first and foremost, with plenty of MLS playoff experience. However, both Vieira and sporting director Claudio Reyna said they’re happy with Johansen’s development this year — and his contributions may not be over.

“You see a bit more [improvement] if you play in games,” Johansen said. “Games is where you improve the most so it’s kind of hard to show everything when you have just one game but hopefully I’ll get some more and showcase even more what I’ve improved this season.”