Two years ago, Fabian Johnson was starting for Germany in the final of the European Under-21 Championship alongside such future stars as Mesut Oezil, Sami Khedira and Manuel Neuer.
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On Friday, the 23-year-old midfielder could make his debut for the US national team in an exhibition game at France.
”I didn’t decide, really,” Johnson said Thursday. ”Jurgen called me and asked me, could I imagine to play for the US? I wanted to take this chance.”
That would be Jurgen Klinsmann, the former Germany national team star and coach, who replaced Bob Bradley as coach of the U.S. team in late July.
Since taking over, Klinsmann has added three German-Americans to the player pool. Midfielder Danny Williams, Johnson’s Hoffenheim teammate, made his debut against Honduras last month just eight days after acquiring a US passport. Hertha Berlin defender Alfredo Morales, like Johnson, could make his first US appearance Friday night at Stade de France outside Paris.
They join two German-Americans who made their debuts under Bradley following last year’s World Cup: Schalke midfielder Jermaine Jones and Nuremberg defender Timmy Chandler.
”Fabian is interesting,” Klinsmann said. ”He has a special vision. He can play a killer ball, which is rare. He’s a player who can do most everything on the ball. I see him as a connecting forward, but he has the ability to help on the right side of midfield or in the back, which is a nice thing to have.”
Johnson grew up in Munich, the son of an American born in Michigan who joined the US military and moved to Germany. He joined the youth program of 1860 Munich when he was about nine and made his debut for the senior team five years ago, after it was relegated to the second division.
He transferred to Wolfsburg in 2009, shortly after the club’s first Bundesliga title, but made just six starts and 12 substitute appearances over two seasons and moved on last offseason to Hoffenheim, the club backed financially by software billionaire Dietmar Hopp.
Johnson already has played in 10 matches for his new club under new coach Holger Stanislawski despite missing six weeks because of a back injury. Even before the start of the Bundesliga season, Stanislawski had told Johnson to expect a call from Klinsmann.
”They watched me play in Germany, and they wanted to know my feelings,” Johnson said.
FIFA allows players to switch countries as long as they have not played an official match for the senior national team, such as the World Cup, the European Championship, the CONCACAF Gold Cup or qualifiers.
But while Johnson trained with the American team for a week in late August and early September, he couldn’t play in the games against Costa Rica and Belgium because FIFA had not yet approved his change. Then he missed the October matches against Honduras and Ecuador because of the back problem.
Before attending the US training camp at Carson, Calif., his only trips to the US had been for vacation. He mentioned that he enjoyed a holiday in New York.
Even before the new additions, several of the American players spoke German. Steve Cherundolo, a right back from California, is Hannover’s captain.
”I can talk with them in German, but I think the whole group is good for me,” Johnson said in fluent English with a German accent. ”They’re all positive and trying to help each other or new guys when we come in. So that really makes a difference.”
And his family is ready to root him on in the red-white-and-blue.
”They say it’s my decision,” Johnson said. ”They respect I wanted to play for the US. My dad’s happy about it.”
NOTES: The U.S., which plays at Slovenia on Tuesday, is 5-7-3 this year and in danger of finishing a year with a losing record for the first time since going 5-6-7 in 1997. … The Americans are 1-4-1 under Klinsmann and their FIFA ranking had dropped to 34th, 19 spots below France, which already has qualified for next year’s European Championship. … France is unbeaten in its last 15 matches. Les Bleus have played the US twice before, winning 6-0 in East Rutherford, N.J., in May 1979 and 3-0 in Paris five months later.