Fabian Johnson’s injury news couldn’t come at a worse time for USMNT

Fabian Johnson is injured and he may miss upcoming World Cup qualifiers with the U.S. men’s national team, setting up a tough roster decision for manager Bruce Arena.

Johnson exited early from Thursday’s Borussia Monchengladbach match with an apparent thigh injury, and the club confirmed Friday that Johnson suffered a “pulled thigh muscle.” With that, Johnson is set to be sidelined for an “unknown period of time,” the club said.

Without a clear timeline for his return, it remains to be seen if Johnson will need to be removed from the USMNT’s roster for a crucial World Cup qualifier vs. Honduras next week. But if Johnson is forced out of the March 24 match, that’s not ideal since he is clearly the first choice and best option at any position he plays.

This could put Arena in the position of needing to find a like-for-like replacement or retool his approach for the game. Although Johnson had primarily featured at left back under Jurgen Klinsmann, Arena has made it clear he sees Johnson best suited to play in the midfield. At Gladbach, Johnson plays as a left winger.

In Johnson’s absence, Arena could give Darlington Nagbe the start on the left flank with Christian Pulisic on the right. Nagbe has experience all over the midfield, but has been seen as a left winger for the USMNT and the Portland Timbers most recently. Arena used Nagbe there during January friendlies and Nagbe impressed in the role.

If Arena would prefer more USMNT experience, he could look at putting Alejandro Bedoya on the right wing and moving Pulisic over to the left since Pulisic is a bit more versatile. Arena could also look a little more outside the box, and use a player like Jordan Morris on the wing, where he has played for the Seattle Sounders a few times.

But Arena could re-think his approach and call in a new player for the starting spot. One attractive option is Paul Arriola, who plays as more of a wingback for Tijuana, but has been performing well over the past couple of months. Even Julian Green might be an option Arena will want to consider as he’s seen his playing time boosted since moving to Stuttgart.

Whatever happens with Johnson’s injury, Arena has plenty of options, even if injuries and suspensions are forcing Arena to use a lineup that is clearly not his first choice. Right backs DeAndre Yedlin (injury), Eric Lichaj (injury) and Timmy Chandler (suspension) are all out. Midfielder Jermaine Jones is suspended and now Johnson might be out too.

The margin for error isn’t very big. The USMNT has lost their first two matches in this final round of qualifying and Arena has said they need to get at least three points out of their next two matches or the situation will become dire. If Johnson is out, that certainly won’t help, but Arena will have to make do either way.

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