Fabian Johnson at right back? Yeah, that could work just fine for the U.S. national team
Remember that Fabian Johnson injury we over-analyzed a few weeks ago? Hey, it happens. We see news, we react, and a lot of the time, reality goes in an entirely different direction.
Luckily for the U.S. Men’s National Team, the team’s first choice left back has returned to Hoffenheim’s lineup weeks ahead of March’s match in Ukraine. Johnson should be ready to report for Jurgen Klinsmann.
Today’s return, however, included a slight twist. The normal left-sided player, who can play anywhere from left wing to left fullback, was used on the right against visiting Stuttgart. With nominal right back Andreas Beck deployed on the left, Johnson made a rare appearance on the opposite flank, going the full 90 in his team’s 4-1 rout.
That he’s back healthy is already a big plus. We talked about the effect of potentially missing another camp. If Johnson wasn’t able to play with the team in Ukraine, May’s call into the pre-World Cup camp would mark eight months between appearances for the U.S. For a team with a lot of moving pieces, that’s a long time to go without being at Klinsmann’s disposal.
Even better, Johnson put in some time at right back, also known as the U.S.'s biggest question mark. Right now, Brad Evans looks like the likely first choice. Michael Parkhurst is still an option, Geoff Cameron starts regularly for Stoke, but for a number of reasons, he projects as more of a through-the-middle option of the national team. With Steve Cherundolo still a major doubt, a thin corps of right backs means players like DeAndre Yedlin are still in the World Cup picture.
But if Johnson becomes an option at right back? Things suddenly look a lot better, particularly given how DaMarcus Beasley has played at left back. Quite simply, would you rather have a team that features Beasley on the left or one that starts Evans on the right?
Of course, there are a lot of assumptions baked into this hypothetical. Johnson has played 90 minutes at right back this year. It’s enough to indulge a fantasy, not a reality. Even if that reality comes to fruition, he may not be as good on the right as he’s been on the left. Maybe the choice isn’t Beasley versus Evans. Maybe it’s Beasley and a diminished Johnson versus Evans and a fully functional Johnson?
For now, it’s fun to think about. Johnson’s not only back, he’s giving U.S. Men’s National Team fans something else to consider. Another option at right back for Brazil? The team could use one.