United States Men’s National Team defender Fabian Johnson only made it through half of Hoffenheim’s Saturday Bundesliga match at Nürnberg, the 26-year-old left back suffering an injury that kept him from emerging from the locker room at intermission. On Sunday, the league’s web site confirmed Johnson has suffered broken bones in his right hand, claiming it was “not yet known” how long he’ll be out.
Johnson left what became a 4-0 loss to Timothy Chandler’s club, leaving his availability or the U.S.’s early March camp uncertain. That camp, the final time the team will convene before beginning preparations for the World Cup, culminates with a March 5 match in Kharkiv against Ukraine. Given he last appeared for the U.S. on Sep. 10 against Mexico, Johnson is now looking at eight months between appearances for the national team by the time he joins the group in May.
That’s a bigger concern that the actual injury. The time Johnson loses is obviously not ideal, but if he comes back some time in March, he’ll have plenty of time to find his game before the end of the Bundesliga season. Besides, it’s a hand injury. It’s not like his recovery will keep him off a bike or treadmill for long.
But given the constant state of flux Jurgen Klinsmann maintains within his squad, missing eight months for the U.S. is a lot different from missing the same time for, say, Spain. Perhaps it’s not as traumatic as being out of the team for Mexico, where the squad was constantly redefined at the end of qualifying, but it’s still a hinderance. The malleability of Klinsmann’s team leads to a constant state of flux.
For instance, it’s assumed that Johnson has an inside track on the team’s left back position, but since the Gold Cup, DaMarcus Beasley has played well when pressed into service. In theory, that frees Johnson to appear in midfield, as he’s infrequently done for the team, but with Landon Donovan’s return to the fold (and Eddie Johnson’s continued presence in the team), Johnson may not be needed farther up the field. Sure, Johnson seems like the best candidate at left back, but between being pressed into service higher up and missing time with injuries, other options have emerged.
These kinds of things can be worked out via otherwise meaningless camps in November and March, but thanks to injuries, Johnson may miss each (he already missed November’s). Klinsmann already knows what Johnson can and can’t do, but when he returns to the team in the weeks ahead of the World Cup, the U.S. boss will have to work out how Johnson fits with an ever-changing squad.
It’s a minor problem, one that’s likely to get solved, but until Johnson is healthy enough to join the national team, there’s nothing Klinsmann can do.