[USA SPOTLIGHT] Two years ago, Fabian Johnson lined up alongside Sami Khedira and Mesut Ozil in a midfield that led Germany to a 4-0 win over England in the U-21 European Championship final. Now the Munich-born Johnson, whose father is American, has decided to wear the U.S. jersey, accepting an invite from Jurgen Klinsmann for friendlies against Costa Rica Sept. 2 and Belgium Sept. 6. He arrives after starting the Bundesliga season setting up three goals in three games for German first division club Hoffenheim.
The 23-year-old Johnson is known as a fast, technically sound player who can play on the backline or in midfield. At the U-21 European Championship, where Germany’s performance sparked talk of a golden generation, he played wide right in the midfield while starting in the final and in a 1-0 win over Italy in the semifinal.
Before the U-21 finals, Johnson had played in more than 60 Second Division games for 1860 Munich, the club he joined as at age 9. At 15, he served as ballboy for 1860’s games in the Munich Olympic Stadium.
“Goalkeeper Michael Hofmann once gave me a strong scolding,” Johnson recalled of his ball boy days and the time he didn’t get the ball back quite fast enough. Three years later he was Hofmann’s teammate, making his pro debut at 18.
“His strength is his versatility,” said Walter Schachner, Johnson’s 1860 coach at the time. “He can, from right back to left wing, play every position. He’s strong with both feet and thus unpredictable for every opponent.”
After the European Championship, Johnson moved up to the First Division when he signed for defending champion VfL Wolfsburg on what the German press reported was a $3.5 million transfer.
Johnson saw action in 16 games (scoring once) in two seasons for Wolfsburg, which this summer sold him to Hoffenheim for $1 million.
The 23-year-old got off to a fast start at Hoffenheim, which finished 11th last season. He scored in his debut, the overtime gamewinner in a 3-1 German Cup victory over Germania Windeck.
He drew the penalty kick that led to Hoffenheim’s goal in a 2-1 loss to Hannover 96 in the Bundesliga opener. He started again wide right in midfield as Hoffenheim beat defending champ Borussia Dortmund, 1-0, in the season’s second game.
And last weekend, he was rated by Kicker Magazine as Hoffenheim’s best field player in a win 2-0 win over Augsburg in which he delivered the pass that Ryan Babel finished for the first goal and drew a penalty kick that led to the second goal.
From Germany’s U-21 European Championship team, Johnson’s teammates Khedira, Ozil, goalkeeper Manuel Neuer and defender Jerome Boateng went on to play for Germany’s third-place team at the 2010 World Cup, after which Khedira and Ozil moved to Real Madrid from VfB Stuttgart and Werder Bremen, respectively.
Johnson had not made it to Germany’s full national team, which is why he can play for the nation he is a citizen of thanks to his father.