SANDY, Utah — Nothing defines Fabian Johnson better than versatility.
It is one reason why the German-American was such a coveted addition to the U.S. national team in 2011. Johnson can shift between midfield and left back with ease. No matter where he plays on the field, he takes to the position like it is his natural one.
“It's not tough,” Johnson said. “It's just a different role that I have to play. I've played it a lot of times, so it won't make any difference to the team or to me.”
Johnson's versatility could be valuable once again when the United States takes on Honduras in a 2014 World Cup qualifying match tonight at the home of Real Salt Lake of MLS. Honduras is the only team to beat the Americans in their hexagonal group this year and will certainly give them a stiff challenge in the rematch.
The United States leads the group with 10 points off three wins, a draw and the loss at Honduras. The Hondurans are fourth with seven points.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has not said who will start or where, but Johnson is expected to drop into the backfield from midfield, where he played against Panama. The juggling comes out of necessity to fill the hole left by DaMarcus Beasley this week. Beasley will be unavailable while serving a one-game suspension for yellow card accumulation.
For Johnson, it is no big deal to switch. Left back is his club position, so it will be like slipping on a familiar pair of pants.
“I'm used to left back,” Johnson said. “I played the whole season there with Hoffenheim. It wouldn't be a [big] difference to me if I were to start there or the midfield. I just try to do my best at every position I play.”
Moving Johnson is not the only anticipated change. Graham Zusi and Jermaine Jones are expected to return to the starting lineup after both players missed the 2-0 victory over Panama last week.
Still, taking Johnson out of midfield is a tough call. He has been a steadying force in the middle for the U.S. during the qualifying matches. And his defensive aggressiveness will be an asset against a formidable Honduras midfield.
Johnson is adaptable enough to make life equally tough from the left back position. His willingness to tackle any role makes everything easier for the entire back line and goalkeeper Tim Howard to do their jobs.
“Versatility is good,” Howard said. “Sometimes, it can be a curse as well in terms of not being able to solidify a position. Our guys seem to do it. Just being natural athletes back there leads to that versatility.”
Klinsmann repeatedly singled out Johnson on Monday as an example of the mentality he wants in his players. His willingness to accept and understand his role, then flourish in it, is a quality Klinsmann sees as a key to success.
“Every coach see qualities and strengths in players differently,” Klinsmann said. “At the end of the day, a coach is always working on a bigger picture and puzzle, how to fit all the elements together. How do they supplement each other? How do they help each other? What is their specific role?”
With players such as Johnson being able to contribute from a multitude of spots, figuring out the best lineup for each match suddenly becomes much easier.
“If Fabian Johnson can play very effectively at left back or left winger, he can also play in the middle,” Klinsmann said. “We need to figure out what is best for this group. How do they mesh the best? How do we get the best out of them as an entire unit?
The answers are pretty simple when Johnson applies them to himself. He possesses a simple goal of making the right plays at the right times in every match.
“Trying to do everything right is hard to do,” Johnson said. “But I try to give my best and help the team in every minute of the game.”
U.S. vs. Honduras
WHEN: Today, 5:30 p.m.
WHERE: Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy, Utah