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After battling injury, Fabian Johnson ready to play for USMNT

Photo by Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports

Heading into the upcoming slate of World Cup qualifiers, Fabian Johnson was one of the big question marks. The U.S. Men’s National Team winger was battling an injury, one which he returned from over the weekend with a shortened appearance.

Johnson remains a major play for the USMNT, and his absence would have raised some issues. However, the Borussia Monchengladbach winger never had a doubt.

“Yeah,” Johnson said when asked if he’s ready to step in and go 90 minutes. “I think so.”

Johnson didn’t go 90 over the past weekend, but his return did show a sign that he was ready to go. After missing the start of the Bundesliga campaign, Johnson had a 10 minute cameo to close out a 2-2 draw with Augsburg over the weekend.

The return eased some doubts for a player that has certainly had his injury issues. Hamstring injuries have been frequent for the winger, who has made just two appearances since Bruce Arena took over back in January. However, Johnson says a difficult preseason helped him get into good shape physically heading into the new season. He’d hoped the injury issues would be behind him as he marched on towards a World Cup.

Then, a freak training accident, one which Johnson says he “can’t explain”. He fell, landing on his shoulder and back, just days before the Bundesliga season.

“The only reason I didn’t play the whole 90 (last weekend) with my club team was because I just trained one time,” Johnson said. “Obviously, it’s not enough to get in the starting XI. I’m in good shape now. I talked to Bruce and he knows it, he sees it in training, and we’ll see if I start on Friday.”

If Johnson does start, he expects to feature at left midfield, even if his versatility makes him a candidate to play a number of positions. Fullback is always an option, especially with the current injuries, but the USMNT has answers that allow Johnson to push forward.

The loss of DeAndre Yedlin is a difficult one, but Arena could turn to either Geoff Cameron, Eric Lichaj or Graham Zusi to play right back. Left back, meanwhile, has been all but claimed by Jorge Villafana, who is back in the mix at Santos Laguna, furthering his case.

“We talked about it before those camps that he’s going to play me left mid,” Johnson said, “so I’m looking forward to playing a position that I’m usually playing, which I’m comfortable with. I think that’s where I’m going to play.”

At that position, Johnson could be a valuable asset. His attacking ability and speed are just another weapon for an in-form USMNT attack. Christian Pulisic is shining at Borussia Dortmund while the forward pool of Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood, Jordan Morris and Chris Wondolowski enter with plenty of goals in recent weeks. Add in playmakers like Darlington Nagbe and Paul Arriola and there are no issues when it comes to lack of options in the midfield and attack.

Knowing that, the USMNT is confident, especially as they ride an unbeaten run, one which Johnson hopes to continue now that he’s back with the group.

“The chemistry is good and the vibe,” Johnson said. “Our last few games, we had good games, positive games. We’re trying to keep this run.”

“I’m good. I had some issues with my back lately, but I feel good again.”



  1. I think the best thing we can do with Fabian is leave him on the bench these two games. Yes he could find a way into the starting 11 – but for so long he has been put in the 11 looking less than full strength and also not that motivated. It’s clear he’s motivated to go to the world cup – any player would be – but I see Arriola, Nagbe and Bedoya ahead of him on this team (not saying they are better players – just better midfield players for the US in the last 12 months). Where FJ would be the most effective is an attacking right or left back – the sooner he realizes if he wants to play he needs to embrace that role the better.

  2. It’s weird to me that through this run of good form, no losses, a Gold Cup title and a WC birth in sight, that people would want Bruce to change what has worked. Villafana has gotten the job doen and so has Beasley when called upon, despite his age. Do i think we should be acarrying Beasley to the WC next summer in Russia, no, but for right now he is still above competent and knows how to navigate through Concacaf. The only way Jorge gets to be at the level we think he should internationally is playing games, the ability is there, he just needs more minutes at this level to work out the defensive parts of his game. So again, why change a good thing??

  3. Regarding FJ’s speed, after the 2014 WC I cam across a web site where they had various statistics and ratings of everyone who played during the WC. According to their data, FJ was one of the fastest players in the whole WC, not just on the US. I wish Arena wouldn’t be so dogmatic about playing him in the midfield since we have more good midfielders than positions and FJ is definitely better than Villafana.

  4. Nagbe might be a little bit better at holding onto the ball while dribbling in traffic, but overall FJ is a more technical player considering passing,movement, first touch and shooting

  5. I could deal with him as our right mid but I would prefer Nagbe as our left. Rather than run out, say, Arriola at right wing and put Nagbe – arguably our second most-influential midfielder behind Pulisic – on the bench, I would definitely find a way to get both of them on the field.

    Whatever, I do not rate Fabian Johnson as an attacking player over Nagbe. He’s not as technical, he’s not as fast, he’s not nearly as good on the ball.

    Personally I would prefer to keep FJ as our left back but that train seems to have left the station since he now seems convinced he’s a mid. To me FJ’s big value to the USMNT is his ability to fill capably at either right or left back and I barely rate him as a midfielder at all, but that’s me.

    • Q,
      I’m usually in agreement with your posts, but I have a different way of looking at FJ vs Nagbe..
      I think FJ is the faster of the two, but Nagbe carries the ball WITH pace better, 2nd only to CP… FJ has a tendency to let the ball get away from him when he has more than a few touches, but overall he’s the faster of the two.
      That’s another reason why I think he’s just as dangerous, especially with the players we have to choose from, playing at LB.
      To me his 2 best attributes are when he counterattacks in space, and when starts give & goes/quick balls are played one touch near the box- He has the quickness and ability to use both feet.
      I also think our best attacking side would be with him at LB behind Nagbe…

  6. When asked if he’s ready to step in and go 90 minutes, the Borussia Monchengladbach winger “never had a doubt.”

    “’Yeah,’ Johnson said . ‘I think so.’”

    Sounds like a at least a little bit of doubt…


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