Hoffenheim’s Fabian Johnson continues to shine for the USMNT, providing the assist for teammate Jozy Altidore in the USA’s 1-0 WCQ win over Honduras Tuesday night. The squad’s third consecutive June qualifiying victory kept the USA atop the CONCACAF Hexagonal qualifying group with 13 points after six qualifiers, besting Costa Rica by two points and third-place Mexico by five. With only four qualifiers remaining in the CONCACAF competition, Tuesday’s result puts Coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad ever-closer to earning plane tickets to the 2014 FIFA Brazil World Cup after an uncomfortable start to hexagonal play. While AZ Alkmaar’s Altidore deservedly has earned headlines for scoring in four consecutive international matches (including a goal against Germany earlier in June), German-American Fabian Johnson is also earning plaudits and looks to be sitting in first class for the Americans’ likely trip to Brazil next summer.
The versatile German-American provided an assist to Altidore in the USA’s 2-0 win over Panama last week as the 1899 Hoffenheim man started the match on the left wing. Against Honduras, Johnson was the starter at left back, but still was able to contribute dangerous crosses in addition to his game-winning assist when he pulled back a perfect ball from the left for Altidore to strike.
Klinsmann had this to say about Johnson’s performance
With Beas [DaMarcus Beasley] out, it was clear that we had to make a change and we wanted a goal. We knew it was going to be very difficult to break them down. We expected this type of a game. That’s why we wanted Eddie Johnson to grind them, to work on them, and having the option with Fabian overlapping and getting forward and creating something for us. He can do that from either position, as a left back or as a left midfielder, so it’s not a coincidence that the goal came from his side because that’s what we tried to push him toward. He’s an important weapon in our game.
Sports Illustrated’s veteran soccer writer, Grant Wahl, had this to say about Johnson’s performance immediately following Tuesday’s match
On a night when Honduras made life awfully difficult for the Americans, it took 73 minutes for the U.S. to get the goal it needed. But several of the previous chances had come when Johnson pushed forward to deliver a cross. The German-American has turned in two excellent performances on the left side, in midfield and as a fullback, after struggling a bit in the games before that.
Wahl’s colleague at Sports Illustrated, Avi Creditor, rated Johnson, along with Altidore and midfielder Graham Zusi, the best Americans on the pitch.
Jeff Carlisle of ESPN FC rated Johnson’s performance best, giving him an 8/10 and stating that Johnson “defended capably and was a terror getting forward. His cross teed up Johnson from the Americans’ best chance of the first half, and he timed his run perfectly again to set up Altidore for the game winner.” RJ Demello of Yanks Abroad concurred, rating Johnson tops and wondering if “the only question now is, where exactly do you play this guy? He has played well at left midfield but against Honduras put in a great performance at left back. His service from the left and assist on Altidore’s goal, added with the defense’s clean sheet, mean a great rating for Johnson.”
Johnson, 25, began his career with 1860 Munich, earning promotion to his hometown club’s senior team in July, 2006. Johnson also had a stint at VfL Wolfsburg beginning in 2009 before joining Hoffenheim in 2011. Last season, Johnson started 30 matches for 1899, scoring three goals and totaling four assists. He was accurate on 81% of his passing attempts while showing defensive grit by winning 58% of his tackles, while drawing only 19 fouls and one yellow card in over 2600 minutes in league play.
With the experience of 76 Bundesliga matches behind him, the toughness gained from a relegation battle and relegation playoff this season as well as his international experience gained and a systematic understanding of what Klinsmann wants from his players, Johnson appears ready not only for a spot on a potential USA World Cup roster, but an influential role, too.
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