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Can Aron Johannsson Be an X-Factor for USA in 2014 World Cup?

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Can Aron Johannsson Be an X-Factor for USA in 2014 World Cup?
Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

Over the past year, there have been few players in the United States men's national team pool who have created as much excitement as Icelandic-American Aron Johannsson.

Johannsson came onto the radar of most USMNT fans in the 2012-13 season when he scored 14 goals in just 15 starts for Danish side Aarhus before transferring to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar.

However, as a dual international, Johannsson was eligible to represent both Iceland and the U.S. and even represented Iceland multiple times on the youth level.

In October 2012, he accepted a call-up to the Icelandic squad for their World Cup qualifiers against Albania and Switzerland.

As fate would have it, Johannsson ended up with a groin injury and missed the matches—which would have permanently cap-tied him to Iceland.

Then, this summer, Johannsson declared his interest in playing for the U.S., writing the following on his Facebook page:

I have decided to make myself eligible for the USA national football team. I was fortunate in that I could choose between playing for Iceland or the USA since I have dual citizenship. It was neither an easy nor hasty decision, because I was faced with two good national teams. I thank the coaches of Iceland for their interest in me and wish the Iceland national team all the best in the future.

His decision wasn't taken very well by the Icelandic FA, but Johannsson's one-time switch with FIFA was completed, and he played shortly thereafter for the U.S. in their August friendly against Bosnia.

Since then, he has made three more appearances for the U.S., coming on as a 90th-minute substitute against Costa Rica, starting and playing 72 minutes against Jamaica and coming on as a 62nd-minute substitute (and scoring his first goal for the U.S.) against Panama.

But the question still remains, can Johannsson be a contributor for the U.S. next summer at the World Cup in Brazil?

 

Johannsson's ability

There's little doubt about Johannsson's skill. In 19 games for AZ Alkmaar so far in the 2013-14 campaign, he already has 12 goals.

Jurgen Klinsmann said in a Q&A with ussoccer.com that he has the ability to be "cold blooded" in front of goal and some of his finishes this year for AZ have been absolutely jaw-dropping.

He also has a first-touch and "smoothness" on the ball that is rarely seen among American players.

The real question is, where does he fit in the U.S. lineup?

 

The competition up top

Johnannsson regularly plays for AZ as the center forward in their 4-3-3. For the majority of the past year, the U.S. has employed a 4-2-3-1.

George Frey/Getty Images

If Klinsmann sees Johannsson as a forward, he will need to dislodge Jozy Altidore as the U.S.' lone striker.

While Altidore has not exactly been tearing it up in the English Premier League with new club Sunderland, Altidore did regain Klinsmann's faith this summer and has rewarded that faith with eight goals in his last eight games for the USMNT. Altidore was even named captain for the U.S.' last match against Panama.

At the striker position, Johannsson would also need to beat out Eddie Johnson, even for sub minutes. While USMNT fans have always been critical of Johnson's value, he has proved his worth to the squad in recent months with five goals in his last eight matches, including the game-winner against Mexico.

 

The competition in the midfield

If Klinsmann sees Johannsson as a midfielder—or simply wants to play him there because he can't leapfrog Altidore or Johnson on the depth chart up top—the competition doesn't get any easier.

Johannsson could arguably play the center attacking midfield spot, but that position appears to be Clint Dempsey's as long as he wants it. Even if Dempsey were injured, Klinsmann would likely look to Landon Donovan or Mix Diskerud to play there before Johannsson.

Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

Out wide, the competition is just as fierce.

If Dempsey is healthy, Donovan would be pushed wide and the U.S.' massive contingent of wingers comes into play, including Alejandro Bedoya, who is making waves in France's Ligue 1; Graham Zusi, who was spectacular for the U.S. in October; and Fabian Johnson, who Klinsmann stubbornly continues to play as a midfielder.

And that's not counting Eddie Johnson, who has played regularly out wide for Klinsmann, and possible competition from Joe Corona, Jose Torres or Brek Shea, who all had strong summers for the U.S. during the Gold Cup run.

There's no doubt that Johannsson can be an important player for the U.S. going forward and potentially for two more World Cups after 2014 (he is only 22 years old), but if the U.S. regulars are fit and in form, he's got his work cut out for him.

 

Follow me on Twitter @JohnDHalloran
Follow me on Facebook www.facebook.com/AmericanTouchline

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