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USMNT Daily Update: Will Klinsmann move Johnson to left wing, and can he afford not to?

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It is time to test your memory a bit. Think about the best performance by a U.S. Men’s National Team left winger that you can remember. When was the last time an American left winger truly marauded down the flank as a true flank player, providing width and service and pace?

You might say Eddie Johnson in Antigua a year ago, but that day he looked more like a wide forward than true winger. If we are talking about a player excelling in a role as a traditional left winger, you have to back to the final national team match of 2011 to find someone who looked like a serious attacking threat in that position.

That someone was Fabian Johnson.

The Hoffenheim standout has spent an increasing amount of time playing on the left wing for his German club in recent weeks and months, and with the U.S. midfield being a unit struggling to create chances for the U.S. forwards, it seems only natural for Klinsmann to consider Johnson for a role on the left flank. Klinsmann suggested we could see it in the friendlies, though the German Bundesliga relegation playoffs have gotten in the way of Klinsmann trying that out.

That Klinsmann is actually open to the idea, when there was a time not too long ago that he was vehemently opposed to moving Johnson away from his left back spot, is telling. Not only does it offer a peek at Klinsmann’s understandable frustration with the struggling U.S. offense, but also suggest that Klinsmann believes he finally has some viable alternatives at the left back position.

One thing is clear, Johnson is the best left back in the U.S. pool. It’s pretty tough to deny that, even you let yourself be swayed by his struggles against Honduras in the blazing heat in San Pedro Sula. He didn’t have his best game that day, but then neither did any of his teammates.

What can also be argued is Johnson is also the best left-sided midfielder in the pool. If Brek Shea were healthy and playing regularly he could try to make this case, but he isn’t and can’t. Herculez Gomez manned the spot against Mexico in March, but he would be the first to admit left wing isn’t a natural position for him. Grahahm Zusi could theoretically play there, but is better suited for the right wing.

(Here is where many of you will stop reading and, in a snark tone, point out that Landon Donovan could play there.)

Donovan isn’t with the team, and his absence is a discussion for another time. In terms of players actually on the team for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, it is tough to argue against Johnson being the best option on the left flank.

So what is the problem? The problem is whether or not you buy Edgar Castillo and DaMarcus Beasley as viable left back options? Six months ago that would have been tough to agree with, but plenty has changed since then. Castillo has blossomed playing for a Club Tijuana team that won the Mexican league last year, and are on an improbably run into the Copa Libertadores.

Beasley is coming off of a pair of inspired performances at left back in World Cup qualifying, against two teams with strong wing play in Costa Rica and Mexico.

Wait, what? You don’t think Beasley played all that well against Mexico? Considering the opponent, and the venue, it’s very tough to argue that he didn’t play well. Yes, Gio Dos Santos and Javier Aquino did their best to try and run Beasley ragged, but for all the abuse they tried to subject him to, Mexico still didn’t generate any goals and Beasley stopped his share of attacks (and even the yellow card foul he drew in a dangerous area was a questionable call by the referee, fooled by a clear dive).

Beasley held his own against arguably the strongest wingers in CONCACAF (even if you can argue Costa Rica’s speedsters were neutralized in the snow). So if Beasley can hold up against Mexico and Costa Rica, is it really a stretch to think he can do the same, or better, against Jamaica, Panama and Honduras in June?

You also have Castillo playing very well, filled with the confidence that comes with playing well in a competition like Copa Libertadores. Whether it is Castillo or Beasley, the U.S. will have a speedy defender capable of staying with any of the attackers the U.S. will see on the left flank in qualifying.

Then you consider what moving Johnson up to the left side of midfield could mean for the American attack. Johnson is faster than anyone who Klinsmann has started on the left wing in the past year. He can take people on, and can provide service. His marauding runs on the left against Slovenia in 2011 helped the Americans post an impressive road win, and for players like Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey and Herculez Gomez, having a truly dangerous threat providing service from the flank is a dream come true, and something the U.S. attack simply hasn’t seen much of lately.

Klinsmann might not be ready to deploy Johnson on the left wing in Kingston, but when the Americans return and play Panama and Honduras at home, he will have to consider it. Think about the possibilities of a Johnson-Beasley left side, with both of them being able to play left back or left wing. The overlapping and interchanging could prove dizzying to deal with for opposing defenses.

Not convinced that could be a long-term solution, and find it hard to imagine Beasley starting at left back in the 2014 World Cup? That is a subject for another day. For right now, in the HEX, with three important games coming up, and with an attack that has managed two goals in three HEX qualifiers, finding a way to give the offense more of a boost is key, and deploying Johnson on the left flank could just be what the U.S. offense needs to start creating more chances and scoring more goals.


  1. Wish Josh Gatt would stay healthy and he’s definitely a speedster on the left flank. He at least likes taking on defenders, even if he loses the ball every once in a while. At least he’s keeping defenders honest. Joe Gyau has speed to burn on the right which we could use someday.

  2. The solution is obvious. We must clone FJ. Every match he is our best LM, LB , and CM. All that technical talent must not be wasted.

  3. Beasley and Fabian. I like the reverse set-up. I would play Fabian at LB and Beasley at LW. Both have great offensive talent, but Fabian is more mentally aware of defensive schemes and has more minutes at LB than Beasley. I DO like the potential for overlapping as well as overall speed would be increased on the left side. I would start Castillo over Beasley at LB every time. I believe the right set-up would be Castillo at LB and Fabian at LW. I believe any way we look at it the USMNT needs Beasley. Beasley can play LW or LB and this versatility is important because of card situations or injury situations. LW could be a player pool of Fabian, Beasley, and Shea.

  4. One would think that if a certain Premier League fullback was called up, said coach would have the flexibility to try something like this. It’s ok though, we have a 27 yr Corey Ashe with no caps waiting in the wings. SMDH.

  5. Man, a team with Altidore up top, Dempsey slotted slightly underneath, Donovan and Johnson on the wings and Bradley and Jones in the middle might put on a show! You know, the attacking, possession oriented and chance creating one we were promised.

      • That’s the same crap we have been trotting out, Donovan is not a game changer and Eddie Johnson is not a winger.

      • That’s Fabian Johnson not Edward. And when’s the last time both Dempsey and Donovan played together. Make no mistake, there would be some real attacking potential with those six.

  6. Start with Castillo-Johnson on the left, end the game with Johnson-Beasley. Beasley does well as a super sub when needed, especially when the other team’s defense starts to tire.

    • Yeah they look like World Cup winners on paper.

      But just how motivated do you think they will be after a very long and draining season for most of them?. This game could be a seriously boring 0-0 draw.

  7. While maybe not the most effective, you could say doing the opposite – playing Beasley at left wing and johnson in the back – is the more conservative approach. Demarcus isn’t at all the same winger as he used to be but he’s more familiar with the position that defense. At least he would provide SOME width, instead of absolutely nothing that they’ve been getting. Just putting it out there.

  8. I think Klinsmann knows it best, what ever he will do it should help the national soccer team. Interesting to see his tactics vs. Germany. However, I am confident that he is doing the right thing and in my opinion, the US Football Team will be a big surprise for the Brazil World Cup. Thumbs up !

  9. With the big caveat that I have not seen much of Castillo lately, I have been wanting to see a Beasley-Fabian left side for a while now. I don’t care who plays LB and who plays LM, as long as one stays back when the other goes forward. That pairing would have so much attacking power…

  10. I’ve always thought that Johnson’s future with the Nats would be playing up field. We just need to find someone solid enough to cover defensively at LB. I’m fine with Castillo, and in a pinch Beas, against Concacaf flank attackers, but have serious concerns against WC level physical and fast forwards. Both would get pushed around and be liabilities defending in the box, especially on the high stuff. Cameron would probably be a better choice after the Hex.

  11. We had two clean sheets in qualifiers with Beasley as left back. Yes, one of them was in a blizzard (he was our best defender), but the other was in Azteca. We have a back line that works. So yes, we should definitely give F. Johnson a shot on the left wing, and no, we shouldn’t cast Beasley aside just yet.

    Watching Gonzalez in his third meaningful match, Biesler in his first, right-back Cameron, and freaking Damarcus Beasley make it out of Azteca with a draw was like watching a baby run the gauntlet unscathed. You can say that Beasley isn’t good enough, but when something like this happens, analysis flies out the window; all you can do is try it again and see if this ridiculous thing is ridiculously effective still.

  12. Except Johnson was not being used as a true winger that you are describing for Hoffenheim during the Kaiserslautern game. The reason he was effective during that game was because he was in a rotation with the CM and the Left back. This movement caused Kaiserslautern fits. In fact, the leftback was the player streaking up the wing while Johnson was making runs cutting into the middle.

  13. Fabian belongs in a facilitator role. I don’t like him out on an island as a winger, but he’s probably our best option on either wing with Donovan gone. You guys who think Edgar Castillo has somehow grown in recent weeks into a quality player, he looks like that on a regular basis for his Mexican league clubs. That’s what earned him the first Mexico callup. The problem is he stinks against the pace and physicality of the international game, where the spaces are smaller and the passes have to come quicker. He’s a left midfielder playing one line back because he’s not that great of an attacker. Beasley is a straight swap for him at left back defensively and an upgrade in attack. If you want a small guy with a left foot and some pace, take Beas over Castillo any day.

    • You obviously haven’t been watching the Copa Libertadores knock out rounds, where, on average, the pace of play is as higher or higher than the average European league.

  14. Castillo/FJ/Beas are all very interchangeable at LB/LW. I expect Beas to get cap 100 in one of the freindlies and hope to see FJ/Castillo starting in WCQ. Never did understand all the Castillo hate and also think Ives is dead on in calling out the Donovan lovers for saying he “could” play there. He could if he was in camp. We should be able to round up 7 points in this run of WCQ’ers without Landon. Personally, I think Klinsi is right to keep him out of the squad to send a message he has to WANT to be there for his teammates. Not just to play for the Nats, but literally to be there for the guys through thick-and-thin. Yes Landon has been going non-stop for years. He also is blessed with the skill and opportunity to play footy for a living. Let’s have confidence in the players selected and get behind the team no matter who we wish would have gotten called in! What I’d like to see in the WCQ:


    Subs: Jones for Bradley, DMB for FJ/Castillo, Herc for EJ/Jozy, Corona for Demps/Zusi

    What I think Klinsi will trot out for WCQ:

    Zusi———Demps———Fabian J


  15. ——————jozy————

  16. Well, I’m not totally convinced that moving Johnson to the wing will help anything. Johnson has been OK at left back for bottom dwellers Hoffenheim, but not spectacular. Maybe thats why Hoffenheim is going through a relegation battle.

    Prime attributes for a winger are 1,). passing, 2.) passing 3. passing 4.) keeping possession of the ball and passing 5.) Crossing the ball (passing) 6.} keeping possession of the ball and successfully passing. Not hard to see huh

    Beasley is better than most, Holden is superior, both left and right, but will be the same after his injury. Shea is very good at holding possession when he is on his game, but in the EPL he was miserable. Donovan is superior on the right and only just “good on the left, But Moyes had him play winger most of his stay in Everton and he was excellent. But of course when Klinsmann is through punishing him he will be a likly choice at the WC.

    Putting a striker on the wing like Hercules Gomez is only good if they can hold possession. Looking at HG record against Mexico and he was miserable (but then again so were a lot of the wing and backs.

    Johnson is good in possession, but is his service any good. Maybe it will take a friendly to find out

  17. I’d take an 50% Brek Shea than an uncommitted Landon Donovan any day of the week. I’d be too afraid Queen Landy Cakes would walk out during half time to ‘find himself’

    • Hopefully Jurgen doesn’t see this comment or we are gonna see some dude with “Fischy” on the back of his kit before we see a dude with “Donovan” on the back.

  18. How does the argument go with Fabian at LB and Beasley at LM? Still allows for overlap and leaves the stronger LB at LB.

      • Which is why Ives makes the argument, I suppose. But I think the reality is that Klinsi sees Fabian at the top of the LB pool and any time he’s available he will be in the starting XI at FB. Plus, Klinsi values what Beas did in snow and at Azteca. He bent, but did not break. (Granted El Tri haven’t been clicking on all cylinders). Plus the pool is arguably deeper at LM with Beas, Herc, EJ, Shea, and even LD. What I’d truly like to see: consistency. Not from play, but at positions. We are a year from Brasil. Sans the Gold Cup (which is when I think Castillo starts at LB), we should from the fall qualifiers on call the same 23 into camp – baring injury. With consistency in line-up comes consistency in performance.

      • I don’t think that we need the same 23 every time, but I do feel like we need to have the same starting lineup when injuries or absences aren’t an issue. One or two games ago I heard the commentator say JK has never played the same starting lineup twice.

    • Yep, Tim. That is the way I see it also, with Beasley at left wing and either Fabian or Castillo at their club position of left back. Beasley was okay at LB in an emergency situation. But to continue playing him there is, I think, is crazy, just a continuation of Klinsmann’s penchant to try to stick square pegs into round holes.

      Beasley is a disaster waiting to happen at left back. Concacaf teams will be ready for him in the future. I contend that Beez is a much better option at winger/attacking midfielder than Fabian, whose weak performance yesterday at left midfielder convinced me beyond a shadow of a doubt that he should remain at LB for the USMNT. Yes, it is possible that he just had a bad game, but I don’t think so. He has been playing LB too long now and simply does not have the instinct for goal that someone like Beasely has.

      • Personally, I think it would be both awesome and very effective to see Deuce, LD, Beas, and EJ on the pitch together. Pretty good group from the sub U-23 days. Add Bradley and Howard/Guzan and I could easily fill in positions depending on formation. We need consistency in call-ups for consistency in performance.

  19. While you’re at it, find someone who can be dangerous and fly in some crosses from the right. Zusi ain’t that guy. At least not for the US yet.

    • Totally agree, everyone seems to love Zusi but other than a defensive header late in the Mexico match I don’t think he has done a ton for us, certainly not enough to make him a for sure starter like a lot of people feel. I guess that’s more of a indication of how weak we are on the wings. By the way, we already have someone that plays there, hopefully he gets called in for the Gold Cup GYAU…lol JK but I think we all know who it is, Klinsmann’s Lord Voldermort…

    • To me Zusi is a natural attacking mid not a winger. As a SKC supporter I feel he does great out wide but is even better when in the midfield. His passing is really good and he’s got a good shot from distance. He can still take the corners if that’s what coach wants. I am biased but I think he’s a lock for the team in some capacity.

  20. For Belgium, Neither Johnson or Castillo will be available. I see several options:

    Beasly at LB with Shea/Gomez/E. Johnson on the wing. Beasly will get toasted by the Belgians.

    Besler at LB I don’t know if he has the speed for it, and he plays CB for KC, but he can deliver the ball, and is a very strong defender. This lets you put Beasly on the wing.

    Cameron at LB. Cameron filled in at LB a LOT for Stoke, so this is not an issue, but then who do you put at RB? Edu?

    I think we should give Besler a try there. It’s only a friendly, and he has risen to every challenge so far.

    • Its almost certainly going to be Beasley at left back against Belgium. Klinsmann has basically stated this. It will be another tough test for him, and I’m interested to see how he hold up. On the left wing I think we will see EJ. Gomez is always a possibility but EJ gives us a bit more in the attack. I love Gomez coming off the bench btw. He has a proven track record of success there.

  21. agreed 100%. i think it will happen exactly like Ives pointed out. Castillo will start at the Gold Cup and if he does well there, then I think he over takes Beasley at LB. but we have to give Johnson a shot at LM.

  22. Yep, I think most people would agree it’s time to start Castillo at LB, and move Fabian up to LW.

    Some will point out that there could be some defensive deficiencies on that side. Fair enough, but that attacking clout on the left would push any CONCACAF team back in their defensive third.

    Not only that Castillo’s defense has been superb in the Copa Lib. Castillo was probably Tijuana’s best player last night.

  23. I would just prioritize playing guys in the same position they man for their clubs. If Hoffenheim are playing Johnson as a LW, then by all means run him out there for the USMNT. It’s not as if we’re spoiled for choice anywhere on the field (other than GK and, arguably, CM).

    • yes… we got lucky that Mexico couldn’t hit the broad side of barn (let alone the frame) in the last game with Beasley at LB… he was exposed numerous times by Dos Santos in particular, they just couldn’t finish…

      Beasley is an emergency solution at LB… nothing more…

      Though I’d love to see Johnson at wing…

  24. While I think a Fabian / Castillo combination could be strong I just want both of them to come out of their remaining matches fit and able to go in Jamaica. Both of their final matches will provide quite a test and much stress, followed by lots of travel. To be fit, focused, and ready to go vs Jamica is in my opinion unlikely for both of them. I just hope at least Fabian will be there.

  25. “Not only does it offer a peak at Klinsmann’s understandable frustration with the struggling U.S. offense…finding a way to give the offense more of a boost is key…”

    Hmm, maybe call up Donovan?!?!?

  26. Beasley was serviceable but thinking he’s better than Castillo at LB is off. He is better as a LW or LB sub IMO. He did well when pressed into duty but he is older and Castillo is tearing it up at that position which he plays day in day out, and his big weakness of old (giving up random big plays) is gone. Who was nominated over and over the past year for LigaMX best XI for LB? Castillo, not DMB. I say give him and Fabian the one two.

    • I thought DMB was great at LB in that Mexico game, but I have to agree with you. Start Fabian at LM/LW and Castillo at LB. DMB can sub on for either as needed.

    • Well considering they play two totally different positions for their club(Beasley didn’t even play LB for Puebla), comparing both of them by saying Castillo was nominated for LigaMX best XI is applesmto oranges. I’m not saying I think Beasley is the better option but saying Castillo deserves it more because he was nominated for an award at LB when Beasley didn’t even play LB doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

  27. Not that I’m advocating for his inclusion right now, but the most memorable recent left flank attack has to be Brek Shea’s that lead up to the game winner at Azteca.

    So, one play that indirectly lead to a goal from a guy who hasn’t given us anything close to consistency…I think that makes Ives’ point.

    • Remember that the goal in Mexico that Shea set up was partly created from a bad touch that turned out great for him. Bad touches don’t turn out like that often.

  28. Been calling for a Castillo/Johnson left side for some time now. It doesn’t matter what position either guy plays. Just need them to make runs forward to attempt to generate some offense.

    • Exactly. Both Johnson and Castillo are strong defensively and like to get forward. May lead to some initial adjustments, but in the long run it will be effective. In the short run it’ll be more effective than what we’ve had. Use DMB as a sub for either/experience locker room guy

      • Go back over the last year and a half and see how many times Fabian and Castillo have both been healthy and available for the same time.

        It’s not a lot.

    • I’ve been watching Castillo regularly in the Libertadores competition and he has looked absolutely awesome. Good defensively and absolutely fantastic with the ball at his feet starting passes to move out of the defensive third or attacking into the attacking third of the field.

      • Yes but like the article stated, Johnson is currently playing in the relegation playoffs and will have minimal time with the club if any before Belgium. So while Belgim would be a better test it might not make the most sense to throw him in as soon as he gets off a flight.(if he even gets here before the match) Regardless, the German “C” team is still a better test than just about every team in CONCACAF, except Mexico.

      • Yeah. Germany’s ‘C’ team is not in the same universe as our ‘C’ team. e.g. it includes Klose, Podolski, Mertesacker, Bender, etc

      • Draxler is there too and judging from Schalke pretty good. Not 100% he is playing but I saw him in the Team photos from Florida.

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