ORLANDO, Fla. — Fabian Johnson's absence from the U.S. national team roster for October's do-or-die World Cup qualifiers turned heads as Bruce Arena left off a player widely regarded as one of the team's best.
Arena addressed Johnson's absence on Thursday, though he didn't go into much detail about what specifically led to Johnson's omission.
"We just put together a roster we thought could be successful in these two games," Arena said. "I think Fabian is a very good player. As we continue to move forward with the national team, I would suspect he’s going to be in camps down the road."
The Borussia Moenchengladbach midfielder endured a forgettable performance in September's 2-0 loss to Costa Rica, struggling badly and failing to offer much of a threat. Arena kept Johnson on the bench for the team's second September qualifier, a 1-1 draw against Honduras.
Johnson's September struggle shouldn't have come as a complete surprise considering he had only just recently returned from a back injury, and had played just 11 minutes for Borussia Moenchengladbach to start the new Bundesliga campaign. Johnson had returned to action in the weeks after the September qualifiers, including starting Moenchengladbach's two most recent matches, playing a combined 148 minutes in those games.
It was those recent starts that made Johnson seem like a lock to be included on the U.S. roster for October's qualifiers, but Arena chose to leave him out anyway.
What does the future hold for Johnson and the national team? The 29-year-old has been quoted as saying he was considering retiring from international duty after the 2018 World Cup, and in a summer interview with Bild he suggested that he would be limiting his time with the national team.
"I still really enjoy playing for my country, but there is an agreement with head coach Bruce Arena that I will only play in the more important matches," Johnson told Bild.
There isn't a more important match than Friday's clash with Panama, a match that could either cripple or bolster the U.S. team's chances of qualifying for the World Cup.
Johnson's absence was particularly surprising given the lack of quality wing options in the current U.S. player pool, but Arena ultimately determined he had better options for the upcoming matches.
“I don't think any one particular player benefits from [Johnson’s absence]," Arena said on Friday, though Paul Arriola does appear to be the player most likely to step into the wing midfield role left open by Johnson's absence.