World Cup: USMNT handyman Fabian Johnson says he expects defender role

STANFORD, Calif. – For all the talk this week at US national team about where the Americans’ most versatile players will line up in the World Cup, the best handyman of the bunch has a pretty good idea what’s in store for him.

Despite mixing and matching throughout his brief US career in the midfield and on both sides of a back line in need, Fabian Johnson told reporters at USMNT camp on Thursday that he expects for Jurgen Klinsmann to use him as a defender when the tournament opens next month in Brazil.

“I’m trying to play in the midfield, but if I’m in the squad and at the World Cup,” he said, “I’m going to be a defender.”

Johnson, 26, said he hasn’t had any conversations with head coach Jurgen Klinsmann about where he’ll be deployed, but he should have no trouble adjusting to the back line, if that’s his fate. He played three games at left back for the team in 2013 and was a pinch-hitter at right back for the team’s 2-0 win over Mexico in September that clinched their spot in the World Cup.

He also played left midfielder four times last year, proving that he’s become one of the team’s most valuable assets as Klinsmann begins to eye his final 23-man roster next month.

Not surprisingly, there is competition at all three spots. DaMarcus Beasley appears to be the incumbent starter at left back after holding that spot down for most of qualification, while MLSers Brad EvansGeoff Cameron, and Michael Parkhurst will likely battle FC Nürnberg’s Timothy Chandler at right back.

The left midfield spot was once thought to be Johnson’s for the taking – especially with LA Galaxy star Landon Donovan expected to be used as a forward, according to Klinsmann – but perhaps Johnson’s speed and eagerness to get forward from the back could lead Klinsmann to use him there.

Asked if he had begun preparing to cover Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo in the team’s second group-stage game on June 22 in Manaus, however, Johnson played it safe with his predictions.

“I just want to play, that’s my first goal,” he said with a laugh. “I don’t care against who.”

Johnson was one of 25 players in camp on Thursday, with five European-based players expected to arrive this weekend or early next week. English Premier League regulars Tim Howard, Brad Guzan and Cameron were excused from training this week, while Jermaine Jones and Turkish side Besiktas will play Saturday for a Champions League qualifying berth against Genclerbirligi and Aron Johannsson and Dutch club AZ Alkmaar with play in the Eredivisie’s Europa League playoff with Groningen on Sunday.

Philadelphia Union midfielder Maurice Edu was cleared to begin full training on Thursday after battling concussion symptoms earlier this week, while LA Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez continues to undergo treatment here in Palo Alto for a knee injury.

Former US Under-20 World Cup and current Southampton goalkeeper Cody Cropper also trained with the team Thursday while Howard and Guzan are still away.

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