Why Aron Johannsson Will Be a Fan Favorite at the World Cup

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Why Aron Johannsson Will Be a Fan Favorite at the World Cup
Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Only five weeks ago, Icelandic-American striker Aron Johannsson, who currently plays for AZ Alkmaar in the Eredivisie, chose to represent the U.S. internationally.

And while he is still unknown to most casual U.S. men’s national team fans, Johannsson could easily become one of the U.S.’ most important and most well-liked players by next summer’s World Cup in Brazil.

Here’s why.

 

He Chose the U.S.

Like many of the U.S.’ current players, Johannsson is a dual national. While he was born in Mobile, Ala., he has lived in Iceland since he was three. However, he still visited the U.S. most years since leaving, taking many of his vacations in Florida, and he spent the 2007-08 school year at U.S. Soccer’s development academy in Bradenton, Fla.

While Johannsson was eligible to represent both countries and even played for Iceland at the U-21 level, his decision to apply for a one-time switch to the U.S. ties him to the USMNT going forward.

Johannsson gave U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann much of the credit for convincing him to play for the U.S., saying Klinsmann “showed me a massive interest.” Johannsson also stated his desire to “train with a coach who has done it all before."

About the prospect of playing for the U.S., Johannsson said, “I’m super excited, especially to play for such a big country and to play for a country that is fighting for titles.”

 

He Has Skills

Johannsson first made a name for himself in the Danish Superliga, scoring 14 goals for AGF Aarhus in only 18 games in 2012. He then made the move to the Dutch Eredivisie, where he now plays for AZ Alkmaar, Jozy Altidore’s former club.

With AGF, Johannsson once scored an incredible hat trick in less than four minutes.

With the U.S., he has only played 27 minutes, coming on as a substitute in last month's friendly against Bosnia. But anyone who had a chance to watch that game got a taste of Johannsson’s skills. He was smooth on the ball in a way that few U.S. players are and drew praise from Altidore, who said:

Aron was fantastic today. We can all see what he brings to the table. Since the first time I was around him in training, I said this guy is a fantastic player. When I heard he was American I told him straight away he would be a huge asset for us, and that he should come play for us. You can see from his first game how good he is. He has great ability to see a pass, create space for himself and others, and playing alongside good players always makes your job easier.

Johannsson has also drawn praise from former U.S. international Earnie Stewart, who also happens to be the director of football at AZ Alkmaar.

He's good, very good, that's why we have him. He's a typical center forward with good agility. He's very cool—I guess all Icelandic players are—and at the same time he has a nose in front of goal. He's a player to be reckoned with and if Jozy would leave (AZ), we already have a striker that can fill his shoes in the future.

In his USMNT debut, Johannsson also drew wide praise from many U.S. soccer writers, receiving a rating of 7 from MLSsoccer.com, 6.5 from Soccer by Ives and 7 from American Soccer Now.

 

The U.S. Can Definitely Use Him

While the U.S. already has Altidore occupying the No. 1 striker role for the U.S., there is no clear depth behind him. Herculez Gomez has been battling knee problems since the beginning of this summer, Terrence Boyd has struggled with the U.S. to replicate his outstanding club form and Eddie Johnson, while speedy and a weapon in the air, lacks the technical refinement of a truly world-class forward.

Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan can also both play up top, but both prefer to operate as attacking midfielders.

In Klinsmann’s preferred 4-2-3-1, Johannsson can man any of the front four positions and add a much-needed spark to the U.S. attack should the need arise.

He’s also currently in outstanding form, already registering five goals this season for AZ in just seven games.

With Altidore still an injury doubt for this week's World Cup qualifiers after missing last weekend's game for Sunderland (he has been cleared to train with the U.S.), Johannsson may get his chance sooner than you think.

Follow me on Twitter @JohnDHalloran

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