Stuttgart - One of the season's standout performers, 1899 Hoffenheim's Fabian Johnson has really started to fulfil his potential of late, and is now even scoring goals. It is the kind of form to make USA national coach Jürgen Klinsmann sit up and take notice of the happenings in Hoffenheim.
Two goals in two games
It's about 10.30 pm when Johnson, no longer a man on the fringes, emerges from the dressing room at Stuttgart's Mercedes-Benz Arena with headphones draped around his neck in typical footballer fashion. The smile on his face says it all. The journey home need not be so awkward after all. The preceding 90 minutes couldn't have been more comfortable, with Johnson's Hoffenheim condemning hosts VfB Stuttgart to a resounding 3-0 defeat.
Johnson played his part in the win, and it's little wonder that he's now regarded as one of Hoffenheim's key players. It didn't matter who it was - Cacau, Ibrahima Traore or Cristian Molinaro - the Stuttgart players had no chance up against the left-back. Yet he's more than just your average defender; he can score goals too.
Hoffenheim picked up a long-awaited first victory of the season against Hannover 96 on Matchday 4, with Johnson netting an audacious back-heeled equaliser. He put the icing on the cake with his side's third against Stuttgart, rubberstamping his arrival in the Bundesliga and Markus Babbel's starting eleven.
"Of course it's good when it goes that way", Johnson told bundesliga.com after the game in Stuttgart. "After such a bad start, we've found the necessary self-belief to enable us to express ourselves on the pitch." For Johnson, expressing himself is all about his scintillating pace, his technical ability and - a headache for many opposing defenders - his unrelenting goal threat. Johnson is the best of both worlds: defensively sound and a menace going forward.
Designs on the national side
"Of course, I'm happy to score goals", said Johnson with a typical cheeky smile on his face, but the wing back - who signed from VfL Wolfsburg in 2011 after coming through the youth ranks at 1860 Munich - has enough about him to know that, for him, it's just as much about national as international football.
Johnson has made just two appearances for the USA national side since making his debut against France in a friendly on 11 November 2011, but he can surely expect his cap-count to rise with this kind of form. He'll certainly fancy getting amongst the goals again on Saturday too as Hoffenheim entertain struggling FC Augsburg at the WIRSOL Rhein-Neckar Arena, just a stone's throw away from Klinsmann's family home. Perhaps now would be a good time for the USA coach to take a trip to see his folks, and Johnson.