Fabian Johnson’s name recognition with the semi-casual US soccer fan (i.e., the sort of fan who has watched few if any of their matches since 2010, but might tune in for a WC tuneup) shot up yesterday, as he scored a fantastic goal in the USMNT’s World Cup tuneup match against Turkey yesterday at Red Bulls Arena in NJ. Here’s the video, ICYMI:
So who is Fabian Johnson? He’s one of Jurgen’s numerous German-American imports, and especially after yesterday’s performance, he’s likely the US’s starting right back in Brazil.
(Note: the pattern of importing Germans with American parentage predates Klinsmann. Jermaine Jones joined the USMNT in 2010, a full year before Klinsmann took over, but the trend has definitely accelerated under the former German NT manager and legendary striker, to the point that a site like AmericanSoccerNow recently ran a listicle a year ago titled “The 10 Best German-American Soccer Players” (which Jones and Johnson ranked 1 and 2, respectively). Their intro: “The rise of German-Americans has dominated the United States men’s national soccer team picture the past few years, especially since the hiring of Jurgen Klinsmann in July 2011. Influential players such as Jermaine Jones, Timothy Chandler, Fabian Johnson, and Danny Williams have injected a Teutonic influence on the team, altered depth charts, and raised expectations.”)
(Question: Were there other German-Americans who made the move to the USMNT before Jermaine Jones? Although not German, Earnie Stewart was an early import who fits the pattern: the son of an American serviceman who had been stationed in Europe, was raised in the country of his birth–Netherlands in Stewart’s case–and starts his professional club career there before deciding that the USMNT gives him the best chance of playing in the World Cup.)
Coincidentally SoccerAmerica ran a short profile of Johnson a couple weeks ago, and contains this remarkable fact:
There’s a very good chance that Fabian Johnson will start at right back for the USA at this summer’s World Cup. But he can also play left back, or on either side of midfield.
When he started for Germany in a 4-0 win over England in the 2009 U-21 European Championship final, he played wide right in a midfield that included Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil.
Unfortunatly (or fortunately, from the USMNT perspective) his career stalled a bit after that. After the U21 Euros, he moved from 1860 Munich–the club in his hometown that he’d joined at age 17 (via wikipedia)–to defending Bundesliga champion Wolfsburg, but he made only 16 appearances for them over the following two seasons. Again via the SoccerAmerica article:
In 2011, Fabian got a call from Jurgen Klinsmann and an invitation to the U.S. national team. When he told his parents of the offer, there was no controversy about changing allegiance.
“I told them that Jurgen wants to invite me in and they said congrats,” Fabian said.
At that point, Johnson’s chances of playing for Germany, which he had represented at each age group from U-17 to U-21 from 2003 to 2009, had evaporated. He had been part of the golden generation — the U-21 Euro 2009 team that, in addition to Khedira and Ozil, included Manuel Neuer, Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng. But during the time that the full national team became a world power again Johnson languished at Wolfsburg.
“After the European Championship, it was quite a hard time for me,” he said. “In two years, I played only 16 games, and that’s not enough for a player who wants to play in the national team.”
A transfer to Hoffenheim revitalized Johnson’s career and caught Klinsmann’s attention. Now Johnson, who moves to Borussia Moenchengladbach next season, is likely to face his former German teammates on June 26 in Recife.has played with Hoffenheim the last few seasons, moving to Borussia Monchengladbach this August.
So we’ll be able to see him at a toppish-tier Bundesliga club in the fall, but before that we’ll be looking for him to make an impact in Brazil this coming month.
(H/t to MightMighty.US for the photo of Fabian Johnson featured above–from their infrequent “tHERsday” series of US Soccer salaciousness. They posted the one above in Dec 2012: “die Hitze! This week we present you ladies with German-American (but American when it counts) Fabian Johnson and his crazy-sick tattoo sleeve.”