U.S. MNT Midfielder Fabian Johnson has played a part in Borussia Monchengladbach’s surge in the Bundesliga, who are now just one win away from securing a place in the Group Stage of the UEFA Champions League. With huge friendlies against Netherlands and World Cup champions Germany on the horizon ahead of the vital Gold Cup this summer, Johnson looks to carry that form into the National Team.
After going an unbeaten 5-5-0 in the season’s first 10 games, entering week 13 Borussia Monchengladbach took a sudden skid in the form of three-game losing streak and fell to fifth place on the table. Seven weeks later at the week-20 mark, the team was still in in fifth. Now, entering the last two weeks of the season, ‘Gladbach is riding a 12-match unbeaten streak and holds on to the league’s No. 3 spot. U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Fabian Johnson has played an integral role in helping make Die Foals the hottest team in Germany.
“We've just been trying to do everything we can,” Johnson said of the team’s success in the second half of the season. “I think the first half was also good, just not as good as the second half. We have been able to win big games like against Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund and Bayer Leverkusen that we missed in the first half of the season.”
The victory against Leverkusen was perhaps the most significant for the Foals, particularly with the clock ticking on the season. Going into the match, Leverkusen was just two points off ‘Gladbach’s third place position in the table, which is an especially valuable position to be in since the Bundesliga top three are ensured automatic bids in the group stage of the UEFA Champions League. Ultimately the hosts triumphed for their third-straight league win, with Johnson assisting on the game’s final goal of his team’s 3-0 victory and bolstering the team’s Champions League position. Johnson also assisted on ‘Gladbach’s game-winning goal in its 1-0 victory against Wolfsburg on April 26, that win guaranteeing his side at least a place in Champions League qualifying, but they want more.
“Getting to Champions league would mean very much,” Johnson said. “It was our goal to go to the Champions League. We've already achieved being in the qualification stage, but now we want to go to the group stage directly.”
Johnson said he’s never been a part of an experience like the one he is on right now, and said it’s a thrill to have played a part in it. In league games since January in which he has been in the Starting XI for Gladbach, the team has not lost. In that time frame, Johnson has settled into his role on the left side of midfield, scoring a goal and adding three assists.
“Right now I’m playing left mid. When I first when got to ‘Gladbach it was kind of difficult because it had been a while since I had played the position and I wasn't so used to it,” Johnson said. “After the winter break, I had a few good games and now I’m feeling better. I know where to run and where to pass and I’m feeling much more comfortable in the position right now. I like it.”
The team is now just a win away from that automatic group stage placement in Champions League, and they will have a chance to get it on Saturday when it plays Werder Bremen.
“In almost every game in the second half of the season we have had great team performances. Everybody worked for each other and gave everything in those games,” Johnson said. “I think we’re just having a great run right now and we’re trying to keep it going over these last few games. We have to at least win one more, and hopefully we can manage it on Saturday.”
‘Gladbach has had tremendous defensive success during this run, shutting out its opponent in nine of its last 15 Bundesliga games.
“It’s very difficult to score against us. I think we have a great defensive work and then as soon as we get the ball we are very quick in transition and work to score very quickly. We did a lot of good work on these elements during the Winter break. We just feel comfortable out there and everybody’s positive, not just the players but the club and the whole area here.”
Borussia Park, the home stadium for ‘Gladbach, has a capacity of 54,057, of which 16,145 are standing-room only due to the team’s popularity. Johnson said the Foals fans are some of the world’s best, and that their support propels him and his teammates when they’re on the pitch.
“Our fans are just great,” Johnson said. “When we play road games, it sometimes doesn’t even feel like we’re away. They’re doing a great job and they’re always supporting us.”
Johnson isn't the only player with U.S. MNT ties that has given the Foals faithful something to cheer about. U.S. MNT Special Advisor Berti Vogts was a two-time Bundesliga Player of the Year when he played for Gladbach from 1969-1975. Vogts was a key player for the team in its Golden Decade in the 1970s, when he earned German Player of the Year honors twice (1971, 1979) and led the team to three-straight Bundesliga titles from 1975-77. Former U.S. MNT goalkeeper Kasey Keller captained the squad in the 2006-07 season.
‘Gladbach and Johnson look to continue the success and finish the season on a high note. From there it’s only a few short weeks before Johnson gets back on the field in a U.S. uniform when the MNT faces Netherlands on June 5 and World Cup Champion Germany on June 10 in international friendlies.
“I think these are great games and I think everyone’s excited for it,” Johnson said. “We’re going to play against the World Champion. We already played them in Washington D.C. and it was a great game. Now we’re playing them away and I think it’ll be a huge game. Everybody wants to play against the best players in the world so it will be fun.”
The U.S. lost to Germany in the group stage of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, last summer 1-0. This time around the game will be played on German soil in Cologne, which happens to be just a few minutes away Johnson’s home in Dusseldorf. His mother, brother and friends will be there to watch him play.
The proximity to home with these friendlies also helps because Johnson has a lot to prepare for in the next few months with the end of the Bundesliga, the MNT friendlies with Netherlands and Germany, and the start of the CONCACAF Gold Cup just a few weeks after that.
Johnson said he’ll closely focus on his training to ready himself for the host of games he’ll encounter, while many of his club teammates will likely be on vacation. Johnson said that the significance of the games and the Gold Cup will fuel him as he works.
“The Gold Cup is very important,” he said. “We want to go to the Confederations Cup, that’s our goal, so we have to win the tournament.”
While Johnson’s club season is wrapping up, he knows his soccer year is far from over, there’s plenty more to come on the horizon with the U.S. MNT, hopefully Johnson says, when his year is over, he’ll have a Gold Cup to hoist and a Champions League group stage matchup to look forward to.
It has been close to four years since Johnson debuted for the U.S. MNT in its match against France in November 2011. He’s come a long way since, having played a big part in the U.S.’s run in the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, where he started all four games. Johnson hopes that this recent success proves to be a continuation of better things to come.