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Copa America Postmortem: Fabian Johnson

The U.S.A.'s most successful winger saw the field at left back throughout the tournament, returning to the spot he first began playing at under Jurgen Klinsmann. Was it good? Meh.

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Fabian Johnson, based on the results of his last club season, is the United States's most prolific midfielder of the moment. Starting on the wing for Borussia Monchengladbach, he notched eight goals across Bundesliga and Champions League competitions, and helped Gladbach to a fourth place finish after a tumultuous start to the season. But, with Klinsmann not trusting any of his left back options enough to keep Johnson in the midfield, he once again shuttled back to defense to fill a need.

Games: 5

Minutes: 450

Tackles: 9

Ball Recoveries: 42

Goals: 0

Assists: 0


It was pretty clear that Jurgen Klinsmann wasn't giving that left back spot to anyone but Fabian barring injury or suspension when he didn't even really try to give Edgar Castillo, the one natural left back on his roster, a starting run-out in the friendlies leading up to the Copa America. Matt Besler, who I've never seen play left back before this summer, started over Castillo, who started at left back in the Liga MX Liguilla this spring. So Fabian came in and did the job he's always been asked to do in this situation: make the best of it. By and large he did that, bringing a bit calmer presence to the back line than most of Klinsmann's left back experiments have thus far. It's nice to know one of your defenders isn't repeatedly prone to bone-headed errors all the time, and Johnson played defense admirably at times.


Here's the thing about Johnson: he's a great utility player. He can play both outside back positions and both wings, which is hard enough as is. But playing him in the back against top-caliber sides negated his strengths while not really adding strong defense. Johnson is a good enough defender when he's matched up with Paraguay or Costa Rica; the same cannot be said when he's tasked with tracking Juan Cuadrado or anyone from Argentina. The offensive side of his game never showed up from his deep position, either. He only took four shots and completed just one successful cross all tournament. I understand that the left back spot is a source of consternation for Klinsmann, and Johnson represents a known quantity who has quality, But when push came to shove, all the best things Johnson did for his club over the past year disappeared when he was rotated back to defense, and no truly outstanding defensive qualities emerged.

Copa Grade - B-

I don't have the heart to give Johnson a worse grade than I gave to Gyasi Zardes. Johnson did fine at his left back spot, but certainly wasn't special, either.

What's Next

Gladbach are once again in the Champions League and still aiming for greater heights in Germany as well. The 2015-16 season saw the reemergence of Borussia Dortmund as one of Germany's heavyweights, and Gladbach were happy to keep a spot on Europe's biggest stage, but overall must have been disappointed to not improve on their third place finish the year before. Johnson is 28, in his prime and on a team that is consistently qualifying for Europe and finishing near the top of their table,. His job is simple then: keep his starting job and keep scoring goals and notching assists. Can't ask him to do any more than that.