Since possibly before the beginning of time, the US Men’s national team has had woes in filling it’s left-back position. Jonathon Bornstein and Heath Pearce have tried their hand numerous times during the Bob Bradley era with limited success. Youngsters like Edgar Castillo, Eric Lichaj and Timothy Chandler have all gotten brief cameos and not played terribly, but one could tell that they were playing out of their natural postion.
The USA even went as far as to play a veteran out of position in Demarcus Beasley at left-back. On paper the Beasley move was brilliant. It got an experiences national team player on the field and game it a speedster and natural left-footer at a need position. But, that experiment basically failed miserably, so for the USA to go to with another non-natural left-back is a bit of a surprise.
But, that’s exactly what Jurgen Klinnsman did with Fabian Johnson. Granted, Johnson has played the last four games for his club team Hoffenheim (Germany) so it is not a brand new experience for him. Especially considering the type of success that Johnson had in his last national team experience. In his starting debut against Slovenia he was a menace for the opposing defense. While wearing the #8 jersey, he actually looked like Clint Dempsey firing a howler of a shot early on that set the tempo of the match and eventually earning a penalty with his darting runs. Yet, the injury to youngster Timothy Chandler (the Yanks best interim left-back) forced Klinnsman’s hand and Johnson responded terrifically.
Although he isn’t “left-footed”, he is plenty capable of using it well (something Chandler is not as adept at). And, we’ve seen that he has plenty of ability and attacking fervor, so he is able to provide support on the left flank and provide an outlet for when a teammate is double-back marked or if a right-footer cuts back into play he can be in position for a lay-off pass and be able to put crosses into the box.
Fabian Johnson proved his merit against stiff competition. Squaring up against the Italians Johnson played a crucial role in the USA’s 1-0 victory. Not only did he cross the ball in to Jozy Altidore to lay-off for the Clint Dempsey goal but he performed well defensively too. Not an easy task as Christian Maggio is a wing-back of the fullest extent, constantly overlapping and going forward keeping the defense on it’s heels. However, the combination of Fabian Johnson and Brek Shea combined well to stop out that threat and combined to be quite the nuisance offensively as well.
Fabian Johnson pairs with Steve Cherundolo (and Timothy Chandler in the future) to provide a threat from both full-back positions, and puts them one step closer to being considered among the elite national teams in the world. With this position settled the USA can begin setting a regular XI and preparing for their 2014 World Cup run.
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