There isn't an American enjoying a better club season than Fabian Johnson, and a big reason for the success has been his blossoming into a truly dangerous left winger.
Johnson has become a goal-scoring threat since being moved to the left flank on a regular basis with Borussia Moenchengladbach, and his attacking forays have fans relishing the prospect of having him in the U.S. national team attack this year.
Jurgen Klinsmann isn't quite as ready to commit to keeping Johnson in an attacking role, though — not with the U.S. struggling to find consistent options at left back and right back.
"Obviously you like to kind of continue having a player play at the same role in the national team that he’s playing in his club team to just keep him consistent, keep him confident, but sometimes it’s not doable because of maybe problems in other positions," Klinsmann said in response to a question about Johnson submitted by Goal USA, as part of an interview with U.S. Soccer's website.
"You know (Johnson) can play right back and left back as well, and on the wing in midfield both sides as well. That gives us a good feeling that we can switch over to that role."
Johnson arguably is the U.S. team's best option at all four wide positions, and has enjoyed success at all four. But with viable options lacking at fullback, Johnson is looking like a safer bet to be in the U.S. back line for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala in March.
Johnson started as a left winger in both of the U.S. team's World Cup qualifiers in November, a victory against St. Vincent and the Grenadines and road draw against Trinidad and Tobago. Tim Ream started at left back in both qualifiers, while DeAndre Yedlin and Michael Orozco split starts at right back.
Ream looks like a solid option at left back, but right back is less secure. Yedlin is finding playing time at Sunderland as a right back, but Klinsmann has appeared hesitant to start the 22-year-old there against tougher competition. Orozco has been a fill-in at times at right back, but he currently is out of favor at Club Tijuana.
The Americans' recent friendlies failed to yield viable fullback options as well. Under-23 defender Kellyn Acosta held his own playing at left back in friendly victories against Iceland and Canada, but those were his first national team appearances. Klinsmann has even mentioned 33-year-old DaMarcus Beasley as an option.
Also factoring into Klinsmann's ultimate decision on where to play Johnson in March is the wing midfield options he can turn to. Veteran midfielder Alejandro Bedoya is a safe bet to start on the wing, and is enjoying a strong season with Nantes. Gyasi Zardes has also seen his share of playing time as a winger, and started in both recent U.S. friendlies, splitting time between forward and the right wing.
Lee Nguyen was one of the real standouts of the recent national team camp, and although he isn't a pure winger, he did impress in both friendlies. Darlington Nagbe is another player who could be pushing for a larger role, and is capable of playing on the flank.
The road trip to Guatemala should offer a tough challenge for the U.S. defense, and Klinsmann could choose to deploy Johnson along the back line on the road before moving him to the midfield for the home qualifier in Columbus, Ohio.
Working in Klinsmann's favor is the fact that Johnson has shown himself to be adept wherever he is needed, even if it isn't at the same position he plays with his club team.
"For him right now, to be on a roll on the left midfield side is a very comfortable situation. Ideally you want to continue that, but it depends really on who we have then as a left back and a right back available in the World Cup qualifiers," Klinsmann said. "We will make the adjustments, and if he needs to play a fullback role then he’s good with that. He’s always been very, very open to any role when he gets down to the national team."
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