Summary

  • Johnson helped Gladbach finish fourth in recently-ended Bundesliga season.
  • The 28-year-old is two-footed and can play on the wing or in defence.
  • Munich native primed to start for USA at Copa America Centenario.

When the Copa America Centenario kicks off in the USA next week, one of the host nation's key players will be a man born and raised on a different continent entirely: Borussia Mönchengladbach's Fabian Johnson.

Unusual as that may be, it is perhaps fitting going into tournament traditionally contested between South American sides, and one that will be staged outside of the CONMEBOL zone for the first time ever as the event marks its 100th anniversary with a special edition on U.S. soil including six CONCACAF nations.

Johnson, a Munich native whose father was an American marine stationed in Germany, arrives at the competition as one of a number of Bundesliga-based players in coach Jürgen Klinsmann's squad, alongside Hertha Berlin's John Anthony Brooks, Borussia Dortmund's Christian Pulisic, Eintracht Frankfurt's Timothy Chandler and new Hamburger SV signing Bobby Wood.

Johnson had another impressive campaign for the Foals, scoring six goals and providing four assists to help them finish fourth. The 28-year-old has played largely on the left wing at club level for the last 18 months, but is equally adept in more defensive roles. He was used in holding midfield a few times for Gladbach over the course of the campaign, while Klinsmann prefers him at left-back, which is where he started in the USA's 1-0 friendly win over Ecuador on Wednesday.

"It's good to know that I have players who can be used in different positions and know what needs to be done," said Klinsmann, praising Johnson's flexibility. Indeed, Johnson's former Gladbach coach, Lucien Favre, complimented him for being "polyvalent", the epitome of a versatile modern footballer. "I can pretty much play anywhere – except in goal," said the player himself.

The 28-year-old scored six and made four assists for Gladbach in the Bundesliga in 2015/16.

It was under Favre that Johnson established himself on the left flank, as the position plays to his strengths: speed, excellent technical ability and a tireless work rate. Furthermore, his schooling at 1860 Munich, VfL Wolfsburg and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim have provided him with a sound tactical game that allows him to be effective both in attack and defence. So well trained is Johnson, in fact, that although he is naturally right footed, the difference to his left foot is negligible.

An extra advantage he brings to the USMNT side is his top-level experience. In addition to having played in the UEFA Champions League, Johnson was part of Germany's U-21 squad that won the 2009 European Championship alongside Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng, Benedikt Höwedes, Mats Hummels, Sami Khedira and Mesut Özil. He was also excellent at the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, where, for example, he kept Cristiano Ronaldo out of the game when the USA played Portugal.

All of which has made Johnson a mainstay in the USA's starting line-up. And they will need his expertise against Colombia, Costa Rica and Paraguay in Copa America Group A if they are to have a chance of achieving the desired aim of reaching the final in East Rutherford on 26 June.