Fabian Johnson puts stamp on USA's right back spot

The versatile wide man thrived in the position Sunday, scoring in the Americans' 2-1 win over Turkey.
HARRISON, N.J. — Dual dilemmas have afflicted the U.S. national team in recent years. Right back has been a perpetual problem, and versatile wide man Fabian Johnson hasn't had a spot to truly call his own.

Two birds, meet one stone.

Having played a variety of positions with the national team since his 2011 debut, the 26-year-old has started the USA's first two World Cup warm-up matches at that troublesome right back position.

After delivering a steady outing in last week's win over Azerbaijan, Johnson scored his first international goal as the Americans recorded a 2-1 victory against Turkey on Sunday at Red Bull Arena.

"It's always better when you have a role — you can focus on that," Johnson said. "I think I've got my position now."

Johnson opened the scoring in the 26th minute. Pinching inside on the dribble, he played a pass to midfielder Michael Bradley and continued his run into the box. Bradley clipped a perfectly weighted ball, and Johnson slotted it home with a one-time, left-footed finish.

It was Johnson's tool box encapsulated: quickness, intelligence and skill with both feet.

"Fabian is very difficult to read for every opponent," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "With his speed, he has this change of pace that can really surprise opponents, and that's what it was — he goes into the midfield, he plays a one-two with Michael and goes for it."

Added defender Geoff Cameron: "He's a clever player. He's smooth on the ball and we like when he gets involved, gets forward. You saw it today with a great run and great finish."

Enhancing Johnson's effectiveness has been Klinsmann's recent use of the diamond midfield. With right midfielder Graham Zusi drifting centrally to help dictate possession, plenty of room is left on the flank for the overlapping Johnson to exploit.

"For my kind of play, it's just perfect," Johnson said. "Graham tucks inside and I have all the space."

Although Johnson had played a handful of matches at right back for the USA going into the World Cup camp, he was mostly used at left back and left midfield throughout the qualifying campaign.

Following a string of starts at right back for German Bundesliga side Hoffenheim this spring, Johnson grew increasingly comfortable at the position. When he arrived for the U.S. camp, the transition became seamless.

"I wouldn't expect anything different," Bradley said. "There's not much else to say. You can play him at right back, you can play him at left back, you can play him at right midfield, left midfield — he's just a good soccer player. Every team in the world can use those kind of guys."

When Klinsmann selected his 30-man World Cup roster, Johnson, Cameron, Timmy Chandler, DeAndre Yedlin, Brad Evans and Michael Parkhurst were all considered right back candidates. Such was the uncertainty there.

Evans and Parkhurst were then trimmed from the final 23-player squad, while Chandler has been moved to left back and Cameron to center back. With Yedlin sitting on just four caps, it's clear Johnson has the position on lock.

Klinsmann only had one quibble about his right back Sunday: Johnson was lacking in the charisma department after his shot hit the back of the net. As the coach quipped, "On his celebration you could see that he's not an experienced goal scorer — or he's really doing it well to save energy."

But if Johnson keeps bombing forward with the confidence displayed against Turkey, he might add to that goal haul. It's a natural next step for a player whose prominence within the U.S. team seems to grow with every cap.

"He's both-footed, he reads the game extremely well, technically he's very gifted," Klinsmann said. "It's very fun to watch him over the last two or three years becoming better and better. I'm not saying he's there yet — by no means. But I think it's definitely a plus to have him."