6214_isi_johnsonfabian_usmntjt060114220 John Todd/isiphotos.com
Player Spotlight

Fabian Johnson, Now a Right Back, Targets Success

The 26-year-old Munich native is rounding into form at the perfect time for the United States national team. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke with Fabian Johnson after Sunday's 2-1 victory over Turkey.
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
June 02, 2014
8:30 PM
HARRISON, New Jersey—Jurgen Klinsmann has added several big-name dual nationals to the United States national team over the last year, including a high-profile teen from Bayern Munich (Julian Green), a central defender who starts in the Bundesliga (John Brooks), and one of the best goal scorers in the Eredivisie (Aron Johannsson).

With each passing game, however, it is looking like the coach's best international recruit arrived on the scene in 2011, when Klinsmann was still in his first month on the job.

That's when the German coach called in the German-American fullback-midfielder Fabian Johnson, now the fifth-ranked player in the ASN 100 and an automatic starter for the Stars and Stripes. Johnson's wonder strike in Sunday's Send-Off Series match against Turkey gave the United States a lead that it never relinquished.

“He’s 'both footed' and he reads the game extremely well,” Klinsmann said of Johnson. “Technically he is very gifted. It’s really fun to watch him over the last two to three years becoming better and better.”

Born and raised in Munich, Germany, Johnson was a top player on German youth national teams, where he started in an attacking midfield role on the U-21 team that won the 2009 European Championships. That roster featured exceptional talent, including Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Andreas Beck, Mesut Ozil, Mats Hummels, and Sami Khedira.

Following the U-21 European Championships, however, Johnson transferred from 1860 Munich, where he was a budding star, to Wolfsburg. Johnson fell out of favor there and played just 16 games over the next two years.

Johnson's fortunes improved drastically in the summer of 2011, as he made a move to Hoffenheim and earned a role in that club's starting lineup. The son of an American serviceman stationed in Germany, the dual national also earned a callup to the U.S. national team that fall.

Nearly three years later, Johnson has blossomed into one of the U.S. national team’s most indispensable players. He's also one of the squad's most versatile athletes.

The U.S. has flourished with Johnson in an attacking midfield position on the left side. He also proved to be a valuable option at left back, which has long been the Achilles Heel of the team. As the 2014 World Cup draws near, however, Klinsmann has opted to use Johnson at right fullback—the position he has been playing most consistently for Hoffenheim.

“I think it’s always better when you have a role and you can focus on that," Johnson said. "I think I've got my position now. I think I am going to play at right back. I can focus on that. I think I’m going to play there in the future. I’m used to it."

Following Johnson's Man of the Match performance on Sunday, some experts criticized the diamond midfield formation, arguing that it allowed Turkey to apply too much pressure on the U.S. backline. Johnson, however, thrived under the system as it gave him space to move into the attack—where he can expose enemy defenses.

“For my kind of playing, it’s just perfect,” Johnson said of the diamond. “Graham tucks inside and I have all the space in front of me. So it’s perfect for me. In the second half, we switched it a little bit because we kind of had a problem. But it worked pretty well.”

Regardless of the formation, Johnson is optimistic for the team’s chances in Brazil in a difficult group featuring Ghana, Portugal, and a German team that now features many of his former teammates. He believes that the chemistry he displayed on the goal with Bradley is a good omen for the club, a clear sign of improving chemistry.

“I think it’s getting better and better,” Johnson said. “I think we just feel comfortable because we’ve had enough time [together] and we know the runs, the plays, and how guys play.”

Following the game, Klinsmann had nothing but praise for his right back.

“Fabian is very difficult to read for every opponent,” Klinsmann said. “For us, it’s obviously a big plus to have him. For us, he’s versatile. He can play in the midfield in the same role and on the other side, the same. With his speed, he has a change of pace that can really surprise an opponent. That’s what it was. He goes into the midfield and plays a 1-2 with Michael and goes for it.”

Johnson's left-footed laser was his first goal for the United States in 21 appearances.

“From his celebration you can see that he’s not an experienced goal scorer,” Klinsmann added with a smile.

Klinsmann’s joke got a lot of laughs and Johnson agreed with his coach's assessment, although the quality of his strike suggests his offensive acumen should not be taken lightly by opponents.

“I’m a defender,” Johnson said of his celebration against Turkey. “I think Jozy and Clint are better in this way. I’m just happy I made the score.”

What did you think of Johnson's goal? And do you think his ASN 100 ranking is justified? Tell us below.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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