- Johnson will line up directly against record Ballon d'Or winner Messi.
- USMNT on the cusp of their first Copa America final.
- A youth champion with Germany, Johnson is approaching his 50th U.S. cap.
Hertha Berlin's John Anthony Brooks may be grabbing the headlines for the USMNT at the Copa America Centenario, but Borussia Mönchengladbach's Mr. Versatile could prove equally important for the hosts as they prepare to take on Argentina and Lionel Messi (kick-off: 21:00ET/ 04:00CEST+1 day).
"He was one of the best right-backs at the World Cup in Brazil, definitely," said USMNT coach Jürgen Klinsmann of Fabian Johnson on the eve of this year's Copa America. High, if surprising, praise for those accustomed to seeing the 28-year-old line up on the left-hand side of Gladbach's attack as the
Johnson may have scored six goals and assisted four as Borussia booked their place in the play-off round of next season's UEFA Champions League, but he typically plugs a gap at left-back for his country, and without a shred of ego.
"I think every football player wants to get as many touches as possible. So do I," said Johnson of his position-hopping career. "I'm just trying to get on the ball whether I play as a defender or midfielder. It doesn't make any difference to me. I just want to enjoy the game and have fun, as do the whole team."
The US team have indeed been having fun this summer, putting their opening day loss to Colombia behind them with successive victories over Costa Rica, Paraguay and Ecuador to set up a semi-final showdown with Messi's Argentina in Houston on 21 June.
Quelling the Messi magic
Messi has scored every 41 minutes in the showpiece tournament so far, and whilst the FC Barcelona magician likes to drift in from the right between the lines of defence and midfield, Johnson's adaptability - at exactly the opposite point of the pitch - means he could be the perfect antidote to the five-time FIFA Ballon d'Or winner.
"This is a wonderful thing to have for us," said Klinsmann. "We had some problems on the left and right side defensively in the past so he helped out. Having him do whatever the team needs is big for us."
It is perhaps unsurprising that Brooks - alongside goalkeeper Brad Guzan and captain Michael Bradley - has played all 360 minutes of the journey so far, but so has Johnson, and whilst the US are on the cusp of their first ever Copa America final, Johnson has extra pedigree in this area too.
Born in Munich, Johnson was actually part of Germany's UEFA European Under-21 Championship-winning team in Sweden in 2009, alongside Bundesliga stand-outs and future FIFA World Cup winners such as Manuel Neuer, Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels. When Klinsmann approached him to switch allegiance in 2011, though, it proved easier than the coach might have expected.
"I just had a great feeling to be with this group," said Johnson of the USMNT, for whom he now has 48 caps and could earn his 50th in the final if the Albiceleste can be dispatched. "I just have a good feeling with this team, I've had good wins with them and a good experience. I think I made the right choice."
If he can get the better of Messi and Co. on Tuesday, it would be impossible to disagree.