Mystery man Johnson a versatile cog for US team
AMSTERDAM — If you spent Thursday afternoon wondering who Fabian Johnson is and what he can add to the US national team on his first call-up, take heart. You're not alone.
The 23-year-old handyman's name was the most unfamiliar to stateside fans among Jurgen Kinsmann's 24-man selection for upcoming friendlies with Costa Rica and Belgium.
Like Timothy Chandler, he is the son of a US serviceman that was born in Germany. Johnson has played at three youth levels for his native country, but has never appeared for the senior side. He was a starter on Germany's 2009 UEFA Under-21 Championship winners, and thus would need to make a FIFA allegiance switch should he decide to play any "A" competitive international matches (World Cup qualifiers, for example) for the United States in the future.
For now, it remains to be seen how Klinsmann will use the versatile Hoffenheim regular. Johnson currently lines up in the team's 4-4-2 empty bucket at right midfield, though he often swaps sides during a contest. During his time with hometown club 1860 Munich and Wolfsburg, Johnson was largely used at right back or defensive midfield.
Considering his early success with Hoffenheim, it seems they may have figured out how best to utilize his skills. Just three league games into Johnson's tenure with the club, he has already served one assist and won two spot kicks with darting runs into the box.
In some ways, his playing style resembles that of Chandler, who started his FC Nürnberg career playing the same wide midfield role. Johnson's lanky stride is fast and difficult to read, and his pressure causes turnovers.
On the other hand, Johnson prefers to wander or cut inside to more directly attack the goal area, whereas Chandler likes to run the flank and curl in fiendish crosses.
Johnson likes to take part in combo play and provide a back post target. With experience as a defender, he understands the importance of getting back from midfield and he defends actively without fouling much.
All in all, the new guy appears to be a useful cog for Klinsmann to test run in a new machine under construction. Everyone, say hello to Fabian.