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Godfrey's Daily Rant

Aron Johannsson Will Start At Striker in the World Cup

Not since Thomas Dooley signed on with the United States in 1992 has a dual-nationality player been better situated to make such a dramatic—and immediate—impact with the U.S. national soccer team.
BY John Godfrey Posted
August 26, 2013
5:52 PM
SOMETHING BIZARRE HAPPENED over this past weekend: AZ Alkmaar played a match and Aron Johannsson didn't score.

In his five previous appearances for the Dutch Eredivisie side, Johannsson, an Icelandic-American who recently pledged his soccer allegiance to the U.S., started and scored in each contest. The 22-year-old striker is so talented, and in such tremendous form, it is actually bigger news when he doesn't find the back of the net.

Here's a quick tour through his five-goals-in-five-games start to the season.

  • Johannsson scored this Super Cup tap-in against Ajax on July 27.

  • He scored again one week later in the Eredvisie opener against Heerenveen. Pretty confident penalty kick, don't you think?

  • He scored another penalty against Ajax.

  • He cooly chipped the RKC Waalwijk keeper on August 17.

  • And he tallied again—this one shows speed, technique, and poise—in AZ Alkmaar's 3-1 Europa League win against the Greek side Atromitos last Thursday.

    So what happened yesterday against Utrecht, Aron? Why no goals? Is complacency setting in? Do you want to be an "important player" for the United States national team, as you told American Soccer Now in Sarajevo, or don't you?

    As far as I'm concerned, Johannsson is already important—possibly the most significant dual-nationality player to choose the United States since the German-American defender Thomas Dooley shored up the U.S. back line just in time for the 1994 World Cup.

    Hyperbole? Perhaps. Premature? Probably. But there's a reason we're calling this column "Godfrey's Daily Rant." And besides, U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann seems pretty high on Johannsson too.

    “We are very excited to have Aron with us," Klinsmann said before the Bosnia match. Johannsson is "one of the up-and-coming, promising strikers in Europe. He played really, really well in Denmark before he moved to AZ Alkmaar, Jozy Altidore’s old club, and is scoring goals there so we’re really thrilled he chose to join us and to have him in our group."

    Johannsson certainly looked impressive in his 27-minute appearance in Sarajevo, showing great game sense, a lethal first step, impressive technique, and an undeniable lust for goal.

    He has skyrocketed up the depth chart in no time flat, and I for one will be hugely disappointed if Johannsson isn't starting against Costa Rica in the next World Cup qualifying match on September 6.

    Here's my thinking: Johannsson plays a position, striker, where the United States has plenty of depth but very few standouts who don't have big asterisks next to their names.

    Yes, Jozy Altidore is The Man up top—that is no longer in question. But Altidore doesn't always have the best first touch, and the first two games of the English Premier League season have shown that Altidore can be neutralized with tight marking—the sort of marking he will no doubt face in the 2014 World Cup. Altidore will start in Brazil, but who should start alongside him?

    Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey are both studs, but neither would claim to be a pure striker. They both do better in a withdrawn attacking role, or in the midfield, where they can create chances. In the optimal U.S. set up, neither will be playing striker.

    Eddie Johnson looks like a world beater against CONCACAF foes, but he tends to disappear against top-flight competition. Aside from his strike against Bosnia, which was gift-wrapped by two excellent passes from Michael Bradley and Altidore, Johnson's last six goals for the national team have come against Honduras, El Salvador, Panama, Antigua & Barbuda (2), and Barbados. Johnson's previous goal against a non-CONCACAF opponent came more than six years ago, in a 2007 friendly against Argentina.

    Chris Wondolowski scored five goals against Cuba and Belize in the 2013 Gold Cup, and then the 30-year-old fell silent. (Yes, we all noticed.) A true poacher, Wondo doesn't create chances for himself at the top level. It's a problem.

    Herculez Gomez is 31 years old and injured. Not ideal.

    Terrence Boyd, 22, and Jack McInerney, 20, both need more seasoning. Expect to see them play key roles in Russia but not before.

    Johannsson, on the other hand, looks ready now. He has scored 19 goals in his last 26 league appearances—you can catch some of his most breathtaking strikes on YouTube—and as you search you will see him demonstrate an incredible range of skills and attributes.

    Johannsson is audacious and ruthless like Dempsey. Technically gifted and positionally astute like Donovan. Confident like Eddie Johnson. Hard-working like Gomez. And, like Boyd and McInerney, he's young.

    True, he has logged less than a half-hour with the U.S. national team. But Johannsson has an air about him. Hard to quantify, perhaps, but palpable. He is the real deal.

    A spot in the U.S. Starting XI is there for the taking, and I think Johannsson is going to claim it for his own.

    OK, that's my first official rant. Please rant back, in the Comments below. Let's have it out, and then hug it out, and then do it again tomorrow.

    John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.
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