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Americans from Germany

Flanker Attack: Chandler, Johnson to Midfield?

Width is a problem for the United States men’s national team, but Matt Wagner argues that two German-American fullbacks could provide the solution.
BY Matt Wagner Posted
April 04, 2013
2:00 PM
In recent weeks, Tim Chandler and Fabian Johnson, who are known for playing right and left back for Nuremberg and Hoffenheim, respectively, have found themselves starting further up the field as wingers. Both players aren’t strangers to playing on the wing, but are they viable options for the U.S. at this time?

Of the two, Chandler seems more suited for the job. As a youth player for Eintracht Frankfurt, he gained a lot of experience playing a more offensive role, ranging from the right wing to some time at striker. It wasn’t until his last season at Eintracht Frankfurt II (2009-2010) that Chandler saw some appearances at right back.

At Nuremberg, Chandler has made a name for himself in the back, but he’s also seen some playing time on the wing. He started 11 matches in the midfield for Der Club last season. This season, Chandler didn’t leave the backline until Nuremberg’s 2-1 win over Augsburg, but he’s continued to start on the right wing. He showed some promise last weekend against Wolfsburg and old manager Dieter Hecking, forcing a save from Diego Benaglio in the 18th minute.

Nuremberg coach Michael Wiesinger, who took over the club on Dec. 24, has many reasons for moving Chandler, one of which is the emergence of Hanno Balitsch at right back. Balitsch played in the midfield for most of the season, but he has played well enough in the back since filling in for Chandler on March 2 against Freiburg.

Balitsch and Chandler have formed a solid partnership on the right flank, as evidenced by the 14 passes sent by Balitsch to Chandler against Wolfsburg, according to the Bundesliga’s official Web site.

“Naturally, I prefer to play right back,” Chandler said in the Abendzeitung München, “but the most important thing is that I play from the beginning (of matches).”

As for Johnson, he made his first start on the left wing in the 2012-2013 season this past weekend, although he did not have his best display in Hoffenheim’s 3-0 loss to Schalke. After missing two matches due to a hip injury, Johnson committed a major mistake that led to Schalke’s first goal in the 71st minute. He lost possession deep in the attacking zone, and Schalke used a counterattack to take advantage of Hoffenheim having numbers forward. Now former coach Marco Kurz pulled the German-American out immediately following the goal.

Johnson owned up to his mistake following the match, telling the Rhein-Neckar-Zeitung that he “took full responsibility for the goal.”

Despite this poor showing, Johnson has proven his versatility throughout his career, playing at both fullback positions, at both wing positions and even as a central midfielder for 1860 Munich, Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim. In fact, he played all those positions last season for his current club before becoming the regular left back on Feb. 4, 2012.

As to playing Johnson and Chandler in a more advanced role for the U.S. national team, it depends on the depth at each fullback position. If Steve Cherundolo returns to full health and plays at the level he did before his knee injury, he will likely be the first-choice right back, leaving Jurgen Klinsmann the option to put Chandler on the wing.

At left back, things aren’t so plain and simple, though. Johnson is the top choice at left back, and any backup seems to be a downgrade at this moment, although Edgar Castillo would likely start there if Johnson doesn’t.

With all that in mind, Klinsmann could start these lineups:

Both as wingers:
Johnson ------- Dempsey -------- Chandler
Bradley ----------- Jones
Castillo - Gonzalez - Cameron/Besler – Cherundolo

Chandler as winger, Johnson as LB:
Gomez/Zusi ---- Dempsey ------ Chandler
Bradley ------ Jones
Johnson – Gonzalez – Cameron/Besler - Cherundolo

“We’ll see if it works for the future,” Chandler said to the Abendzeitung München before the Schalke match on March 16 about his playing on the wing for Nuremberg.

The same can be said for his international career.

Mathew Wagner is ASN's Europe correspondent.

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