John­son and Arena meet in the mid­dle

U.S. na­tional team veteran ap­plauds po­si­tion switch set in mo­tion by new coach.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Baxter kevin.baxter@la­ Twit­ter: @kbax­ter11

COM­MERCE CITY, Colo. — Un­til last win­ter, all that Fabian John­son and Bruce Arena knew about each other was what they had heard from oth­ers. So when Arena was named coach of the U.S. na­tional team two games into the fi­nal round of World Cup qual­i­fy­ing, one of his first trips was to Ger­many to meet with John­son.

“Just to get to know each other and talk about the po­si­tion where I’m feel­ing the most com­fort­able,” John­son re­mem­bered of Arena’s agenda for their two win­ter meet­ings. “Those kinds of things.”

Turns out those were also the kinds of things John­son wanted to dis­cuss with the new coach. As a club player in the Ger­man Bun­desliga, John­son has played pri­mar­ily as a winger. Yet in John­son’s five years with the na­tional team, former coach Juer­gen Klins­mann used him as an out­side back.

As a re­sult, the tran­si­tion be­tween play­ing for club and coun­try was some­times dif­fi­cult. So when Arena told John­son, 29, he wanted to keep him in the mid­field, it was wel­come news.

“That’s my po­si­tion, where I feel most com­fort­able. And what I’m used to,” John­son said Mon­day as the U.S. be­gan prepa­ra­tions for Thurs­day’s World Cup qual­i­fier against Trinidad & Tobago in sub­ur­ban Den­ver.

It’s also a po­si­tion where, ar­guably, the U.S. needs help after Galaxy mid­field­ers Jer­maine Jones (knee) and Se­bas­tian Llet­get (foot) were side­lined be­cause of in­juries since the last round of qual­i­fiers.

John­son, who plays for Borus­sia Mönchenglad­bach in the Bun­desliga, sat out the March qual­i­fiers be­cause of an in­jury of his own. A thigh strain de­layed his first start for Arena un­til last Satur­day, when he played 62 min­utes as a wide mid­fielder in a list­less friendly against Venezuela that ended in a 1-1 draw.

And John­son, who got the as­sist on Chris­tian Pulisic’s goal, wasn’t the only player that Arena was coach­ing for the first time. For­ward Bobby Wood (Ham­burg) and de­fender DeAn­dre Yedlin (New­cas­tle) also get their first starts un­der Arena.

“We’re still feel­ing each other out,” Arena said. “Now we’re a week in, get­ting to know Fabian and Bobby Wood, DeAn­dre.

“They have to un­der­stand the things we’re try­ing to do and I don’t think we’re there. Satur­day’s game was good to show some of the is­sues we had and cor­rect them and be ready for Thurs­day.”

John­son said the is­sues were sim­ple.

“We have to cre­ate more chances,” he said of a U.S. team that man­aged only two shots on goal against Venezuela. “We have to use the space a lit­tle bit bet­ter.”

John­son said the tight­est part of the learn­ing curve for him dealt more with the style and struc­ture of play un­der Arena than in de­vel­op­ing a chem­istry with his team­mates, many of whom he has played with pre­vi­ously.

“I’m com­fort­able with the group,” he said. “Of course I have to ad­just a cou­ple of things. Dif­fer­ent sched­ules, the way we’re play­ing, the way we’re try­ing to ap­proach the game. The whole staff changed but the play­ers are still the same and I know those play­ers.”


Oft-in­jured cen­ter back John Brooks, who left Satur­day’s game early in the sec­ond half be­cause of a bruised quadri­ceps, sat out part of Mon­day’s train­ing ses­sion be­fore hob­bling to the team bus with his right thigh wrapped in ice. His sta­tus for Thurs­day — as well as for Sun­day’s game against Mex­ico — is uncertain, Arena said. … Wood, Yedlin, Pulisic, goalie Tim Howard and de­fender Jorge Vil­lafana did not train at all Mon­day after play­ing 90 min­utes Satur­day.

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