52614_isi_bedoyaalejandro_usmnt052114136 John Todd/isiphotos.com
Dispatch from Palo Alto

Alejandro at Left Wing? Fabian on the Right? Maybe

Jurgen Klinsmann is experimenting with players at a variety of positions during World Cup training camp in Palo Alto, Calif. American supporters could be in for a few surprises when Tuesday night rolls around.
BY Jon Arnold Posted
May 26, 2014
10:14 AM
PALO ALTO, Calif.—Whether it’s putting midfielders at fullback, trying central forwards as wingers, or making a surprise formation shift, Jurgen Klinsmann has never shied away from experimenting with his U.S. national team side.

And by the looks of things, that’s not about to change in the lead up to the World Cup.

Landon Donovan’s omission from the roster shows Klinsmann has little interest in conventional wisdom or fan favorites. He’s calling the shots, just like he has since taking over in 2011. So even if what Fabian Johnson said before training here Sunday was a surprise, it might be a signal of more of the unexpected changes fans have come to expect from the 49-year-old German coach.

“I think I’m comfortable just playing, I don’t know,” Johnson said when asked where he’d like to play for the U.S. “Trying to play as much as I can, also in the World Cup I’m just trying to play which position the coach is going to put me on the field in.

“I played right back in all of the scrimmages, so I’m ready for this position. I played it in Hoffenheim the last few games, so I’m just looking forward to it.”

That brought a record-screech moment. Sure, as he mentioned, Johnson has lined up on the right before, even doing so for the U.S. in the first half of September’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying win against Mexico. But with Nuremberg right back Timothy Chandler making the 23-man roster it seemed that Johnson’s services would be more useful on the left side.

Maybe not.

Though he’s been working there in scrimmages, Johnson pointed out practicing at a spot doesn’t mean that’s how he’ll be deployed Tuesday in a friendly match against Azerbaijan (10 p.m ET; ESPN2, UniMas)—or at the World Cup.

“No, I’ve got no ideas because we play like different teams all the time,” he said. “Coaches switch the positions, so we don’t know who’s going to start or how we’re going to play. So we’ll see on Tuesday.”

One of Johnson’s strengths is his ability to slot into a number of places on the field. Similarly, Alejandro Bedoya’s name was being floated as a player who could play on the left side of the midfield regardless of Klinsmann’s tactical plans.

The Nantes man has had a quick ascent and has often raised eyebrows with the national team. Klinsmann showed faith in Bedoya by starting him against Honduras in a 2013 Gold Cup semifinal after a poor performance against Costa Rica earlier in the tournament. After the 27-year-old dished out his first two international assists, he again earned the call in the final. More surprising was his place in the first XI against Mexico in the September qualifier.

After those matches and a strong spring in France, his inclusion on the World Cup roster didn’t come as too much of a shock, in part because of his adaptability. At times, however, being a utility player can be a double-edged sword, according to Bedoya.

“Versatility, it’s a funny word,” he said Sunday. “It can help you out and it can hurt you at the same time with many players. For me at Nantes it’s helped me out. I feel like it’s gotten me a better technical, well-rounded player.”

Unlike Johnson, Bedoya has been manning various spots during scrimmages and training sessions, which is nothing new thanks to his Nantes experience. While he’s another potential starter on the left side, he noted he’s filled pretty much every spot in the midfield during his career, whether it’s behind the striker, as a No. 6, or on the wing. Ultimately, he’s willing to line up anywhere if it means a starting spot at the World Cup.

“Where do I see myself? Wherever the coach puts me,” he said. “It’s just trying me in different places in the midfield, where I’m most comfortable. Really, wherever he puts me, I’ll do my best to do my best for the team.”

Knowing Klinsmann, he has an idea of exactly where that is. It just might come as a surprise to everyone else.

Who should start at the fullback positions on Tuesday? And at left wing? Share your thoughts in the Comments below, and be sure to vote in the poll on the ASN home page.

Jon Arnold is an ASN contributor and podcast maker. He will be in the Bay Area covering the U.S. national team through Wednesday. Follow him on Twitter.

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