There are six finalists for U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year. We make the case for every nominee: Jermaine Jones was the midfield engine, while Kyle Beckerman brought it all together and Clint Dempsey is not just the captain, but the goalscorer too.
No matter how hard Jurgen Klinsmann tries to make the United States a more proactive team, they still struggle to score at times. They just don't have the talent to break good teams down, sometimes because of a lack of pace and other times because of a lack of skill. And that is where Fabian Johnson comes in.
The German-American is fast, quick as can be and has plenty of skill. He is what the Americans often lack, but luckily, they have him now.
Ever since joining the U.S., Johnson has given the Americans a jolt going forward. He has done it from various positions, but he's been a regular in the team no matter when he's played. That was on full display in 2014 where, when the U.S. needed a dynamic play to beat a defense that had the Americans at a standstill, more often than not Johnson broke through.
Speed, quickness, skill. Johnson brought it all, and that was most obvious when he scored against Turkey.
The first pass, the run and then the finish. Johnson's play was phenomenal and, probably not coincidentally, Michael Bradley's best play as an attacking midfielder came on that play too. Johnson didn't just put on a show, he brought Bradley along with him.
This may have been Johnson's best play, but it wasn't the only time he brought this kind of jolt to the U.S. His runs from deep and his technique cause havoc for opposing defenses. Even if he doesn't score or pick up an assist, he creates space and makes the other team account for something that otherwise would be missing. He changes the U.S. attack, and he does it almost single-handedly.
But more than anything, maybe no U.S. player is as responsible for getting as many of the team's best players on the field as Johnson. The 26-year-old's versatility is unmatched by anyone else on the U.S. team. He can play, and has played, left back and right back, as well as both wing positions. Those also happen to be positions that the Americans are very thin at.
DaMarcus Beasley at left back? That's possible because Johnson can flip to right back. DeAndre Yedlin at right back? Sure, because Johnson can go over to the midfield. And when the U.S. wants to play a few other players in the midfield, Johnson goes back to fullback.
Jurgen Klinsmann gets to put together his best team, with his best player, set up to best tactically exploit the opponent and then slot Johnson into whatever spot is left open. That's so valuable, and so rare, which is to be expected.
There might not be a rarer American player than Johnson.