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Which position will Fabian Johnson play under Bruce Arena?

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The Fabian Johnson position conundrum isn’t going away anytime soon

United States v Ecuador: Quarterfinal - Copa America Centenario Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

Bruce Arena held a teleconference on Thursday to talk shop. The current player pool seemed to be what the majority of the discussion revolved around. Shortly after, MLSSoccer.com’s Matt Doyle wrote a great piece where he lists his USMNT depth chart position by position. We recommend you give that full piece a read.

This little nugget about Fabian Johnson’s position underneath the left back rankings took me back:

LEFT BACK

1. Jorge Villafana (Santos Laguna)

2. Eric Lichaj* (Nottingham Forest)

3. DaMarcus Beasley (unattached)

4. Greg Garza (Atlanta)

5. Etc.

I think Fabian Johnson's best use in the current US pool is at left back, but Arena said he'll be a midfielder or winger going forward. Fair enough!

Here’s Arena’s direct quote from the Teleconference:

“We don’t have a lineup yet for March. I’m going to see Fabian in the next couple of weeks, look at him and sit down to talk to him. We’ll make those decisions in March. It certainly hasn’t been done yet. He’s obviously a prime candidate in that position, and we’re looking at other players as well, as you can tell from our January Camp.”

So, it seems that Bruce is going through the same questions that we are and has yet to make a definitive decision one way or another.

FabJo’s position in the USMNT lineup has been a hotly debated topic within the U.S. Soccer community for years. I’ve seen incredibly knowledgeable people have different opinions on the topic. For those who’ve read this blog for a while, you’ll know I wholeheartedly agree with Doyle that Johnson’s best use is at left back.

Notice the phrasing on that. “Best use” — At this point it’s not debatable that Johnson’s best position is as a winger or midfielder playing out wide. But, the problem is, as a left back he’s more than serviceable too. He’s the best left back in the pool bar none. Therein lies the problem. If he’s the best player at two positions what is the manager to do?

For people in the “play Fabian at left back” camp it comes down to depth at the two positions and what the team as a whole gains from which player is inserted into the lineup at that spot. If Johnson is at left back, that frees up another attacking player like Christian Pulisic or Darlington Nagbe to get the start. That seems like a logical thing to do from our perspective considering the alternative depth at left back. The simple question becomes, who would you rather have in the lineup? Left back B (Villafana, Garza, Beasley, Lichaj) or Left winger B (Nagbe, Pulisic)?

Then you have the “play Fabian on the wing” side of the argument. These people want one of the team’s best players to play his best position to get the most out of him. They are willing to sacrifice that extra attacker to get Johnson into the final third. It’s a perfectly reasonable and sound opinion to have, don’t get me wrong.

Does the team gain more from Johnson staying forward or another attacking player in the lineup? The Fabian Johnson position conundrum basically comes down to a matter of philosophy. We’ll have to see what Arena decides to do come March.