The key for Fabian Johnson is comfort, and the U.S. Men’s National Team winger is feeling both comfortable and confident heading into this week’s World Cup qualifiers. That comfort is essential for a player that has been shifted every which way throughout a variety of USMNT lineups, but Johnson isn’t mistaking any of that comfort for complacency as he adjusts to a new system and a new coach.
For the first time since Bruce Arena took over as head coach, Johnson has rejoined the USMNT ahead of vital World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico. He’s one of several new but familiar faces in camp, one of many veterans looking to make a good first impression under a new boss.
Those impressions will come in the midfield, as Arena is making good on his promise to push Johnson up into a more familiar wide midfield role. It’s a role he plays on the club level with Borussia Monchengladbach and one that he has played sporadically with the USMNT in between stints at both fullback positions.
“I think that’s my position where I feel most comfortable and what I’m used to,” Johnson said of the shift. “It’s not like I have to adjust in two weeks or five days to left back or right back. It’s just easier for me and I think I can help the team out from that position.
“I’m comfortable with the group. The whole team has good energy and a good spirit, I think. Of course it’s something different and I have to adjust to a couple of things, but I’m doing great.”
Johnson got an extended look at the position in Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Venezuela, a match that saw him play in front of DeAndre Yedlin for a large chunk of time. Johnson played 73 minutes in the friendly, providing an assist on Christian Pulisic’s equalizing goal before being substituted.
It was an up and down performance. There were plenty of quiet stretches as Johnson wasn’t his typically dynamic self, but there were building blocks. Johnson says he wasn’t too happy with the effort on Saturday, especially given the result, but it was good to know where he fits in the team and where he can improve. His relationship with Yedlin was one positive as the two continue to develop chemistry down the wing.
He’s also looking to develop a relationship with Arena. Johnson says the consistency among the players has been helpful, as he’s previously worked with a bulk of the team, but there are still minor adjustments. It’s different schedules, a different style, a different approach, but Johnson joked that he “probably can do it”.
Johnson is one of several returning players that could be in the lineup for the upcoming matches. He joins Yedlin, Bobby Wood and Ethan Horvath as faces joining an Arena-led camp for the first time ahead of two vital matches.
“We’re still feeling each other out,” Arena said of Johnson. “I even told the team that. It’s the first week and I’m getting to know Fabian and Bobby Wood and Horvath in goal, DeAndre. It’s just getting to know them and understanding the things we’re trying to do. I don’t think we’re already there, but an example is Saturday’s game was good. It showed some of the issues we had so we can correct them and be ready for Thursday. ”
“I think you always have pressure,” Johnson added. “We have pretty high quality on our team, pretty good players, and you always have to be at the top of your level to play, even if you’re the guys from Europe or wherever. You have to give 100 percent or else you’ll sit on the bench. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you play.”
Johnson entered camp confident following a strong season with Borussia Monchengladbach, one that prepared him for the task ahead. Played solely as a wide midfielder, Johnson had his ups and downs, including injury issues and a subsequent benching. However, he returned to the lineup down the stretch, making a total of 28 appearances across all competitions before signing a new deal with the club.
Johnson called it “an easy decision” as he feels at home at Monchengladbach. After three great years, he’s looking to continue to push the club forward after a season that saw the team miss out on sealing a European berth.
With his club future settled, his focus is solely on helping the USMNT. He’s admittedly taken a few days to adjust to the attitude and a climate much different than that in Germany, but he feels ready for the upcoming qualifiers. It’s good news for the USMNT as a fit and comfortable Johnson is eager to step up in a big way in the pair of upcoming matches.
“Everybody just has to focus on our goals,” Johnson said. It’s hard to adjust on this little amount of time, but I think we’re on a pretty good way. I just can’t wait for the game.”