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HAMMOCK: Johnson makes first start with U.S. National Team

Most people probably missed the U.S. Men's National Team's friendly soccer match Tuesday night with Canada, and from the lackluster play, they didn't miss much.

But the game, albeit uninspiring, was still a pretty big deal to Gwinnett County soccer fans.

Brookwood grad Sean Johnson made his first start with the national team (his other two appearances were second-half showings), handling the goalkeeping duties for the full match, a 0-0 tie. He earned the shutout with two saves, including a nice one in the sixth minute on a hard shot from the Canadians, but was hardly tested.

That said, the 23-year-old's start at least shows that he's in the mix for playing time on the Americans' top team. He certainly did nothing Tuesday to harm his chances with head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who is prepping his team for the final stage of CONCACAF Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Johnson, 6-foot-3 and athletic, has all the physical tools to be the Americans' top keeper, and he's spent the past few years gaining valuable experience, too. In addition to serving as the starting keeper for Major League Soccer's Chicago Fire, he has trained regularly with the full national team and has spent time working with clubs overseas. He spent December training with a pair of English Premier League teams, Stoke City and Everton FC.

Johnson's continued rise is a nice boost for him personally, as well as for Gwinnett soccer, which for years was represented at the highest of levels by just Josh Wolff of Parkview.

But Johnson and others have put Gwinnett soccer more firmly on the map. Norcross' Steven Kinney, after recovering from a ruptured Achilles, is back in MLS training camp with the Chicago Fire. Parkview's Blake Brettschneider, with two MLS seasons behind him, is in Columbus Crew camp this month as a non-roster invitee.

Two weeks ago, Brookwood's Walker Zimmerman was a first-round selection by FC Dallas in the MLS SuperDraft. A fixture at defender on youth national teams for years, Zimmerman may one day join Johnson on the big-boy national team. Greater Atlanta Christian's Chris Thomas also will get a chance to play MLS soccer --he was taken early in the MLS Supplemental Draft by the New England Revolution.

Those guys are key members of Gwinnett's newest wave of soccer talent, with Johnson leading the way. They should give local fans plenty to watch in the coming years --and hopefully they'll be more exciting than what we saw Tuesday night.

Will Hammock can be reached via email at will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com. His column appears on Thursdays. For archived columns, go to www.gwinnettdailypost.com/willhammock.