USMNT defender Fabian Johnson relishes Borussia Mönchengladbach run

March 23, 2015


Fabian Johnson assumed his place in the line and waited for the cue. He faced a black-and-green wall of delirious Borussia Mönchengladbach supporters packed into one corner of Allianz Arena. He and his teammates responded at the proper moment and sparked the expected response as they swung their arms up and down in unison to celebrate their 2-0 victory over Bayern Munich on Sunday.

This shared celebration between players and supporters arrived at the end of a night dripping with fantasy. Mönchengladbach relied on intelligence, organization and ruthlessness to hand the out-of-sorts champions their first home loss of the season. It marked the second result for Gladbach against the Bundesliga champions during the campaign and underscored their Champions League credentials with just eight matches remaining.

Johnson grasped the magnitude of the evening and placed it in context quickly. There were occasions during the early stages of this increasingly magical march when the prospect of facing Bayern or any other team felt far away. He joined from Hoffenheim on a free transfer during the summer, but his obligations in Brazil complicated his path to a consistent place in the team. He savored the opportunity to bask in his own resurgence and reflect on his tribulations over the course of his first season with the club.

“At the beginning of the season, it was quite hard for me,” Johnson said shortly after the match. “I had the preseason. I had just come from the World Cup in Brazil. So the first half of the season was quite hard. I didn’t have so many games as I thought I would have. Now I think I’m doing pretty good and I’m going to keep going.”

He and his teammates have plenty of motivation to do so. Johnson is now firmly in Lucien Favre’s detailed and successful plans after working his way back into the first team. He features on the left side of midfield for a compact and savvy side capable of soaking up pressure and springing forward potently when the moment presents itself.

Johnson celebrates with Oskar Wendt after the 2-0 victory at Bayern Munich on Sunday.

Favre and his players trusted those tenets to produce result after result this season and push the club toward a European place for the second time in three seasons. This cosmopolitan and prudently acquired group does not compare to Hennes Weisweiler’s all-conquering side in the seventies, but it possesses the determination, the insight and the quality required to punch above its weight against Bayern, Bayer Leverkusen, Schalke 04 and VfL Wolfsburg at the top of the Bundesliga table.

The victory over Bayern extended Mönchengladbach’s unbeaten run to six games and kept the side firmly in the Champions League places. It also provided encouragement to finish the job and ward off Leverkusen for the third and final direct berth into the competition next season.

“I think it’s very important,” Johnson said. “We know Leverkusen has won against Schalke. Now I think we are eight points up against [fifth-place] Schalke. We wanted to steal some points from Bayern and we did. We’re happy. We have to prepare for the next game.”

The next two matches involve an excursion with the U.S. national team through Denmark and Switzerland. There are important steps to take over the next few days as the foreign-based players combine with the domestic stalwarts for the first time during this calendar year.

The trek offers Johnson another chance to display his versatility and slide into his usual American role as an enterprising right back. There are no qualms here about playing one position for club and another for country, according to Johnson. It is simply a matter of linking up with the squad once more to lay the groundwork necessary for the challenges ahead.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Johnson said. “I haven’t seen the guys for a couple of months. We have two friendly games against two good teams. I think [U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann] is bringing in a few new players. I’m just looking forward to it.”

It is the proper perspective for a player with plenty of landmarks on the horizon for both club and country in the weeks and the months ahead. His place along that path is increasingly secure. It is now just a matter of anticipating those cues as he did on Sunday night and figuring out a way to conjure those special moments once more.