After acquiring Sean Johnson weeks earlier, NYCFC have made a major move in trading goalkeeper Josh Saunders to Orlando.
— New York City FC (@NYCFC) January 27, 2017
This move comes as no surprise. Saunders, who was the team’s starting goalkeeper for almost two full seasons, fell out of favor with head coach Patrick Vieira towards the end of the 2016 season and was eventually replaced by 6-foot-7 Norwegian keeper Eirik Johansen, who started the team’s final regular season game as well as both legs of their Eastern Conference semifinal against Toronto FC.
If Johansen’s rise cast a shadow on Saunders’ future with the club, the acquisition of veteran keeper Sean Johnson, who featured in 176 matches over six seasons with the Chicago Fire, almost certainly meant that Saunders would be jettisoned this offseason.
Vieira failed to include Saunders on the team’s preseason roster yesterday, saying, “We found a new goalkeeper,” Vieira said. “It would be better for Josh to find another team where he can play more often” (Quote courtesy of the New York Post).
A day later, and NYCFC have found that team. Orlando City, who have failed to make the postseason in their first two years of existence, and who let up a league high 60 goals last season, need some solidification along the backline. The 35-year-old Saunders can give them that. He will compete with Joe Bendik for the number one keeper role.
According to Mark Booth of NYCFC.com, Sporting Director Claudio Reyna described him as an “important figure in the first two years of the club,” where he started 66 of the teams 68 regular season fixtures, including the team’s first-ever game (against Orlando).
Vieira added, “It was a priority for us as a club to work with Josh to find him a team that he wanted to go to and I’m really happy that we’ve managed to find that solution together.”
Saunders won the Etihad Airways Player of the Month three times in 2015 and led the MLS in saves in 2015 with 123. He finished 10th in 2016 (the keeper who made the most saves is now his direct competitor, Joe Bendik).
With Saunders out of the picture, Sean Johnson and Eirik Johansen will, undoubtedly, compete for first team football as the season draws nearer.