SEATTLE, Wash. — Fabian Johnson ended his Hoffenheim season playing left midfield in the Bundesliga relegation playoffs. And DaMarcus Beasley has occasionally been pressed into service at left back during his career. But it’s still strange to see Johnson, a defender by trade, and Beasley, a natural midfielder, occupying each other’s roles in Jurgen Klinsmann’s setup. When the United States takes the field on Tuesday against Panama, the midfielder will likely be in defense, and the defender will likely be in midfield.
If you reduce the players to their mere positional labels, the deployment doesn’t make sense, but as we’ve seen with players like Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans, Klinsmann’s eschewed conventional labels and chosen to see a set of skills, ones that sometimes result in players being used in new positions.
You could see an argument for the power and strength of Fabian Johnson being a better fit for a CONCACAF midfield. And Beasley’s foot speed, experience, and ability to read a game makes him a good fit at left back.
It’s something Beasley’s come to accept.
“For me, and think even for Fabian, even when Edgar (Castillo) came in last game, it’s the way the coach sees it,” Beasley said, laughing while acknowledging how the deployment would look to somebody outside the team.
“If [Klinsmann] sees the team is more suitable this way, then so be it,” Beasley explained. “I’m happy to pay either way, to be honest. He knows I obviously don’t play that position in Puebla. At the same time, he’s confident I can do a job back there. I’m confident I can do a job at back there. I have no problem playing left back.”
It harkens back to a reoccurring theme of the Klinsmann era: Adaptability. No matter the adversity — injuries, suspensions, weather, tough scheduling, or dips in form (the U.S. has seen it all this cycle) — Klinsmann wants his team to adapt, often on the fly. He doesn’t want his players bemoaning circumstances or rueing a departure from their comfort zones. At times, Klinsmann seems hell-bent on challenging those comfort zones.
It’s how the States can be scarcely worse off while finishing a match in Kingston with two defenders in midfield, two midfielders in defense. Having to adapt after a controversial late equalizer, the U.S. found a 92nd minute winner, claiming their first qualifying victory in Jamaica.
“The whole thing is about [adapting],” Beasley explained, asked about the importance Klinsmann places on the quality. “Adapt to certain circumstances. Adapt to nine-hour trip yesterday. Adapt to the field. Adapt to everything …
“We have to be able to adapt to everything. As professionals, we can do that.”
So when Klinsmann asks his left back to play in midfield, the team adapts. When another midfielder is called in to play left back, the adjustments continue.
The result is an environment short on explanations or excuses, one that’s fostering a new identity. Be it on a water-logged pitch, in a Denver storm, playing through plagues at full back or the typical pitfalls of CONCACAF, an inability to adjust has quickly becoming unacceptable.