Editorial: Is it time for MLS for former USMNT defender Fabian Johnson?

Fabian Johnson MLS

Editorial — Do you remember the 2014 FIFA World Cup? How about the 2016 Copa America Centenario? Fabian Johnson, a defender and midfielder all-around player, was the talk of the town for the USMNT.

Johnson, a German-American, was brought into the program by former coach Jürgen Klinsmann. He was one of many German-Americans getting a shot under Klinsmann. However, a couple years ago, those call ups began fading.

Injuries have subsided Johnson’s career. Those injuries have ranged from his back to his hamstrings. However, he did make appearances here and there for Borussia Mönchengladbach in the Bundesliga.

This season has not been great for the 32-year-old. Johnson has only recorded six Bundesliga appearances, scoring no goals and providing zero assists. Additionally, Johnson did compete only once in the DFB-Pokal tournament.

Max Erbel, the sporting director of Mönchengladbach, confirmed that Johnson will not be re-signed this July. His current contract runs to the end of the 2019-20 season. Johnson hasn’t spoken out yet if he intends to stay in Germany or move to a different league. However, he has hinted that he wouldn’t want to feature for another Bundesliga club than Gladbach.

Also, he was pursued by FC Cincinnati back in October 2018. However, contract talks fell through and a deal was not reached. Could there be a chance that Johnson and Cincinnati rekindle those talks? Or, could another MLS club jump into the fray and try to grab the midfielder-defender?

Here are some options that could benefit Johnson and a potential MLS club.

3. Toronto FC

Who could forget the connection that Jozy Altidore and Johnson had during their USMNT days? Johnson, assuming he would fill a left back or left winger role, could pair nicely with Altidore. However, both have been a bit prone to the injury bug. If you get a fully fit and healthy Altidore and Johnson, that connection for Toronto FC could be fruitful.

Altidore isn’t the only USMNT guy on the Reds roster, either. Johnson already has a resumé with Michael Bradley and especially Omar Gonzalez.

There is an issue here, though: Toronto does boast an aging team. Justin Morrow is 32, Gonzalez is 31, Chris Mavinga is 29 and Laurent Ciman is 34 — and that’s just the defense! Toronto does have some younger players rising up. There is no direct guarantee that Johnson would become an immediate starter, with young talent like Richie Laryea and Julian Dunn eyeing spots.

Either way, there is a lot of familiarity between Johnson and members of Toronto FC. If you want to get awkward team introductions out of the way early, this would be the spot for Johnson.

2. Inter Miami

Want to talk about older defenses? Well, let’s shift down south to Inter Miami CF. In interviews about his upbringing, Johnson has listed Miami as a popular vacation destination with his parents. Growing up in Germany, Johnson traveled to the U.S. to visit Miami and New York City.

Miami is also on high on the MLS Allocation Ranking Order, which is what Johnson would have to go through to enter the league. Right now, No. 1 is Los Angeles FC. However, the defense and midfield is stout, and I couldn’t see Bob Bradley bringing in someone with an injury list like Johnson’s list. There’s a chance they could pass up on him.

However, sitting at No. 2 on the list is Inter Miami.

This is the first-ever season for the newest club in MLS — along with Nashville SC. However, the season has been halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There are talks of a potential Florida tournament system. However, nothing has been confirmed or announced.

Either way, Inter Miami opened up the MLS season with two consecutive losses to Los Angeles FC and D.C. United. The defense includes a slew of MLS veterans like A.J. DeLaGarza, Mikey Ambrose, Ben Sweat and two-time MLS Cup champion Román Torres.

Johnson fits in the age range of these defenders and certainly has a ton of experience that could help a struggling Miami team. Although there’s not too much USMNT connection — unless you count a couple camps with Wil Trapp and Lee Nguyen — Johnson could bring a wealth of knowledge and veteran leadership to the team.

In fact, looking at the roster, Johnson could even fit into a midfield role in Miami. It’s a role he desperately wanted with the national team and put on display in Germany.

1. Vancouver Whitecaps

Youth is one word to describe the Vancouver Whitecaps defense.

Vancouver doesn’t have the best MLS track record. For the last two years, the club did not qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs. In fact, last year, Vancouver took 12th place in the Western Conference. It was a low season for the Canadian club.

This season, Vancouver looked like they were a club to be reckoned with. After dropping the season opener to Sporting Kansas City, Vancouver bounced back and turned heads with a 1-0 victory over the LA Galaxy. The defense silenced Mexican international Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.

The defense in Vancouver is extremely youthful. There is not a single defender over the age of 26 — with the two oldest being Érik Godoy and Ali Adnan. Bringing in someone like Johnson would certainly make him the oldest on the defense. He would even be the club’s third-oldest player. However, with age comes wisdom and experience. Johnson has that, from the Bundesliga to the UEFA Champions League.

He could teach the youngsters on the Whitecaps all he knows. And, if he could remain healthy, he could compete for a starting spot. Johnson shouldn’t be brought in as just someone who can coach younger players. He still has a couple years of soccer left in him, should he remain healthy and find his groove.

When Johnson is on, he plays great.

On the Allocation Ranking Order, Vancouver sits in that No. 4 spot. One spot above them is FC Cincinnati, who tried to recruit Johnson, as mentioned. Could Vancouver and manager Marc Dos Santos take a shot on Johnson?

Last Words on Fabian Johnson

No matter if he stays in the Bundesliga or leaves Germany for MLS, Johnson isn’t going to be featuring in Borussia Mönchengladbach colors last year. His legacy with the club is a strong one. When Johnson was healthy he put up big numbers. Johnson’s best season came in 2015-16, when he scored eight times in the Bundesliga and twice in the Champions League.

Johnson could very well become a popular player in MLS. Despite being soft-spoken and laid-back, the German-American could find a home in the bustling MLS.


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