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Johnson feeling comfortable in familiar position ahead of World Cup qualifiers

Photo by Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports

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.”


  1. Putting together a team in a couple days is tough. I think you will see a major improvement on Thursday. This is the best lineup in a long time. Once they get on the same page, it is going to be fun to watch.

  2. I’ll never understand why people get so up or so down over friendliest. Its easy to criticize players from afar when they dint perform to a fans standards but the reality is this was the first game where the top unit got minutes together under BA. It was the first time Fabian, Yedlin and Wood have been on the field with the others under this new regime, and there is still continuity that needs working out, another article on this site expressed as much. Qualifiers are when we need our top boys at their best so lets reserve judgment until the meaningful games resume.

  3. Nagbe, Pulisic, and F.Johnson need more minutes with each other. The interchange and touch on passes should come. It was evident when either Johnson or Nagbe where not on the same page Nagbe missed a wide open Johnson or Johnson just ran into the wrong space?
    Also, some better hold up play with Altidore in the lineup for Dempsey could help he trio of midfielders

  4. Johnson feeling comfortable in familiar position

    Well, he looked pedestrian and turned in one of the worst performances I can remember since he’s been capped. If that’s comfortable, I’m concerned.

  5. Btw, was it me or did the other players seem to be trying to encourage Pulisic after the game? He seemed pretty upset while no one else was i.e. he was only one playing with real drive and determination.

  6. Agree he was very mediocre. I hope his statements on being excited to play are accurate against T&T and Mexico. He had zero passion last game.

  7. I know a lot love FB on this site. I don’t know that he starts for me. In the conversation for sure, but he was very mediocre against Venz.

    • The thing is that Johnson has high quality skills and can provide that moment or two of brilliance on a great pass or goal. In the game he did have a nice pass to Pulisic that led to the goal even if he was lackluster for much of the game. It’s also like Dempsey/Jozy- they can look uninvolved and pedestrian for long stretches then provide an amazing goal. Johnson can and should do much better, but what makes him stand out on the roster is that he is a two-way player with great athleticism to go along with his technicality. He can maintain possession fairly well and play some defense. This is a nice combo to have at the wide midfield compared to say Bedoya or Nagbe or Arriola. The one player that you can make a case to replace him could be Zardes, but while he might be a step up in athleticism, he clearly does not do as well maintaining possession and passing.

  8. I would also like to see Pulisic moved to the outside and Nagbe moved into the middle. Pulisic is much more dangerous, in my opinion, on the outside where he has room and delivers dangerous cross after cross.Other than that I liked the last lineup.

  9. I would also like to see Pulisic moved to the outside and Nagbe moved into the middle. Pulisic is much more dangerous, in my opinion, on the outside where he has room and delivers dangerous cross after cross.Other than that I liked the last lineup.

    • Agree, Pulisic did not look comfortable in the middle where his talent for beating defenders up the wing and into the box is not as useful.

  10. He is not as effective on the wing in the diamond, he’s better used when he can stay out wide and doesn’t have to pinch in as much


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