USMNT: Dynamic Johnson makes impression at left back

Fabian Johnson general head shot vs Italy

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LANDOVER, Md. – Following the US national team’s 4-1 loss to Brazil on Wednesday, center back Carlos Bocanegra was quick to admit that the club’s backline was not at its best.

But the US captain was also quick to praise one member of the starting defense: left back Fabian Johnson, who put on an impressive dribbling display against some of the world’s most prolific ball handlers.

“He’s doing really well,” Bocanegra said. “He’s a very clever player and his composure on the ball is great. He gets forward and cuts in almost like a winger, goes against people and serves nice balls in. He’s improving every game.”

Against Brazil, Johnson was able to make deep, aggressive runs and provide a spark to the US attack. The 24-year-old German-American fed Herculez Gomez with a sharp cross on the team’s only goal and later juked a defender out of his shorts before making another cross to Gomez that nearly led to a Clint Dempsey goal.

“He’s a player that gives us high quality at that position – high quality, international quality,” US manager Jurgen Klinsmann said. “He knows what he’s doing with the ball. You can time the runs, and he can play killer balls into the space.”

Making only his fourth appearance for the US, Johnson was also effective containing Brazil’s high-powered attack  at least compared to some other members of the backline who struggled. Afterwards, Bocanegra said it’s important for young defenders like Johnson to keep their composure even if they lose battles with their marks, which is bound to happen against teams of Brazil’s quality.

“Obviously with the Brazilian team, everyone can make you miss in a one-on-one situation,” Bocanegra said. “You see guys like Neymar and Hulk take you on and they’re going to get by you. The biggest thing for us is they might make you look bad on one play, but somebody else will come and cover for you. It has to be a big team effort.”

Johnson left the game after 80 impressive minutes, with Klinsmann later revealing it was due to an injury. The late substitution, however, appeared to be more of a precaution than anything else, and the Hoffenheim defender should be able to hang onto his starting spot moving into the team’s next three games.

“He had a little bit of calf issues there,” Klinsmann said. “That’s why we subbed him out. It was the same with Steve Cherundolo. So we made those substitutions to avoid any kind of damage there. But you can see that he can play with those guys.”

Email Dave Zeitlin at djzeitlin@gmail.com.