World Cup qualifying: Fabian Johnson's versatility continues to pay off
Versatile Bundesliga player slotted winning goal to Altidore.
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Sandy • They saluted those waving their red, white and blue scarves and clapped their hands together in commemoration of yet another three points won and another monumental step toward qualifying for the World Cup in Brazil next summer.

Fabian Johnson, his right arm draped around the local boy Nick Rimando, cracked a joke and the Real Salt Lake goalkeeper burst into laughter.

He certainly does it all. He's Jurgen Klinsmann's Swiss army knife. If he's needed on the left side of the U.S. midfield, Johnson, a versatile player for Hoffenheim in the German Bundesliga, steps in and provides an attacking element down the left side of the midfield.

In Tuesday's 1-0 win over Honduras, Klinsmann needed that versatility, so he plugged Johnson into the left fullback spot, left empty by the yellow-card suspension of DaMarcus Beasley.

"Wherever we stick him," said midfielder Graham Zusi, "he's going to find a way to be dangerous."

On Tuesday night, his dead sprint from his position on the back line in the 73rd minute found him wide open on the left side of the Honduras box.

Johnson peeked up, saw an unmarked Jozy Altidore and slotted the ball, and the forward finished the rest. It was Johnson's second assist to Altidore in a week, the previous coming on a bending cross that was finished in last week's 2-0 win over Panama in Seattle.

"It's not a coincidence that the goal comes from his side," Klinsmann said. "That's what we try to push him for. He's an important weapon in our game."

While Michael Bradley commands the flow of the match and Altidore and Clint Dempsey try to slice through defenders and find the back of the net, Johnson is always looking up in an attempt to trouble the opposing back line and brings an attacking element from nearly any area of the field he plays in.

"I think always when I'm playing left back, I'm playing very offensive," Johnson said. "The coach wants me to play this way."

Johnson is one of many German-American players Klinsmann has injected into this American side since taking over nearly two years ago, and he's proved to be one of the team's most important players.

As Klinsmann said, his weapon is needed for the now and for the chase for Brazil. As for Johnson, his approach is simple. He plays where his coach asks him.

"It makes no difference," Johnson said. "You get used to it."

ckamrani@sltrib.com

Twitter: @chriskamrani