Dear Jurgen: Put Fabian on the Wing, Leave Him There
November 29, 2015
WITH ALL THE QUESTIONS surrounding the United States men's national team and its poor 2015 campaign, there can be little doubt that Fabian Johnson is ending the year as the best American player in the game right now. Especially after Saturday’s stellar outing, the Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder is one of the hottest players around.
After scoring midweek in ‘Gladbach’s 4-2 Champions League win over Sevilla, Johnson earned yet another start on the left side of the midfield in a Bundesliga matchup against his former club, Hoffenheim. And Johnson, 27, put on a terrific performance that should have him in contention for Bundesliga player of the week.
The Munich-born Johnson opened the scoring in the 5th minute after a very impressive series of passes in Monchengladbach’s midfield ended with Johnson being played into the box on the right side. He was clinical in his finishing to give his side an early 1-0 advantage.
Monchengladbach struggled from there, however, as last-place Hoffenheim scored the next three goals for a 3-1 lead before Josip Drmic pulled one back for the visitors.
In the 87th minute, Monchengladbach still needed a goal for an equalizer—and Johnson delivered with a very nice display of skill. Played in by Rafael, Johnson cut inside hard with a slick move that caused two Hoffenheim defenders to fall, leaving him with the chance to blast a left-footed shot into the roof of the goal for an unlikely 3-3 draw.
With the point, Borussia Monchengladbach remained in fourth place in the Bundesliga, an especially impressive feat given the fact that it lost its first five league games of the season.
On a personal level, Johnson’s brace gives him five goals in his past seven games in all competitions for either the United States national team or Borussia Monchengladbach. In addition to the goals against Hoffenheim and Sevilla, he’s also scored against St. Vincents and the Grenadines for the U.S. and against Juventus in the Champions League.
The comeback win that Johnson engineered, of course, is not just further evidence of Johnson’s quality; it also supports the notion that he should almost always be playing in the midfield for the United States national team. While he has occasionally been given a look in the midfield—including in the recent qualifiers—he has predominantly been used at either left or right back.
It’s understandable why that would be the case because Johnson is the best fullback by far in the U.S. player pool. But the truth is that he is the best American player overall right now, too (and by a healthy margin), and with the Americans so often struggling to maintain possession and create chances, having a player like Johnson in his best position seems like it should be a top priority.
Using him to plug up holes is a wasted opportunity: Johnson is the type of player you build a team around.
Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.