World Cup: Fabian Johnson at right back? Roster set, details of Jurgen Klinsmann's lineup emerging
STANFORD, Calif. – The biggest secret in US national team camp is public. But now that we know the 23-man roster for Brazil, the question turns to who will be in Jurgen Klinsmann’s lineup?
Players were understandably evasive in their answers before Thursday’s cuts. But on Sunday at Stanford University – the final day of World Cup camp before the US open their send-off friendlies – some clarity began to emerge on the backline and in the midfield.
Midfielder/defender Fabian Johnson told reporters that he has spent significant time during camp at right back, including in scrimmages vs. the Stanford men’s team and the LA Galaxy II of the USL PRO.
“I played right back in all of the scrimmages, so I’m ready for this position,” the 26-year-old Munich native said, adding that he finished the Bundesliga season at right back for Hoffenheim.
Johnson was one of Klinsmann’s most often-used players during World Cup qualifying in 2013, but lined up primarily at left midfield or left back. If he is indeed the coach’s first choice at right back, that might suggest that three-time World Cup veteran DaMarcus Beasley, or Johnson’s fellow German-American, Timmy Chandler, could line up on the left side of defense.
Incumbent center back Matt Besler, meanwhile, disclosed that he has spent time during camp paired in central defense with all three of his potential position mates: Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron and John Anthony Brooks.
Besler has 15 caps for Klinsmann and has the most seniority on the backline. The coach has repeated that he sees Cameron primarily as a center back. Gonzalez has only been training in full for a week as he recovers from a knee injury. And 21-year-old Brooks is the greenhorn, with only three caps to his name.
According to Besler, the recent work in camp has zeroed in on figuring out who will comprise Klinsmann’s back four.
“We’re really now just starting to focus in on team shape because we’ve narrowed down the roster to the 23 guys who are going to be in Brazil,” the Sporting Kansas City center back told reporters on Sunday. “So that allows us to focus in on some specific things. Two days ago and today were really the first time we’ve really been able to break away and do some back-four defending stuff, some shape.”
If Johnson is indeed pushed to the backline, that could leave a spot open on the wings. Alejandro Bedoya disclosed Sunday that Klinsmann has put him in several “different places” in the midfield.
The 26-year-old has played primarily as a right winger for Klinsmann, as well as for his predecessor, Bob Bradley. But the Nantes man pointed out that he played in as many four midfield spots for his French club team.
Bedoya (13 caps) and Graham Zusi (14 caps) have played the most minutes since January of 2013 of any natural wide players on the US roster.
The USMNT see their first official pre-World Cup action on Tuesday in their first send-off friendly, against Azerbaijan, at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park (10 pm ET, ESPN2, UniMas).
Jonah Freedman is the managing editor of MLSsoccer.com.