In Tuesday night's World Cup warm-up match against Azerbaijan, Aron Johannsson entered the match in the 62nd minute for the United States men's national team.
Prior to Johannsson's entry into the game, along with a handful of other substitutes, the U.S.'s attack had been stifled and the game remained 0-0 late into the second half.
After a Mix Diskerud goal in the 75th minute, Johannsson sealed the win for the U.S., putting away a Brad Davis corner kick to give the U.S. a 2-0 lead.
Many saw that goal, along with Johannsson's excellent season in Europe this past year, as a sign that he should be starting for the U.S. But there is much more than meets the eye when it comes to making that decision.
Johannsson's international career for the United States is relatively short. In fact, he only has eight caps for the USMNT and has only played a total of 266 minutes for the squad.
In that time, he has scored two goals, a wide-open header against Azerbaijan and a nice strike from distance against Panama—albeit after Panama had already collapsed, having conceded a late goal to Graham Zusi that killed off their World Cup hopes.
For AZ Alkmaar this past year, Johannsson scored 26 goals in all competitions. While this is an impressive number, it is still fewer than the 31 goals scored by Jozy Altidore just one year ago for the same club in the same competitions. And Johannsson's goal-scoring rate for AZ this past season was even lower than Altidore's when one considers their minutes played.
Last year, Altidore scored a goal every 112 minutes for AZ, or an average of 0.80 goals per 90 minutes played. Johannsson, by comparison, scored a goal every 162 minutes played this season for AZ, or an average of 0.56 goals per 90 minutes played.
It is also difficult to make a straight comparison between Johannsson and Altidore because of the different roles they would play for the U.S. While Altidore is a prototypical target forward, Johannsson is known more for his technical proficiency and excellent movement in and around the box.
Altidore, despite his dreadful two-goal season this year with Sunderland, is also more capable of playing the role of the single striker, a formation which Jurgen Klinsmann preferred during World Cup qualifying and may go back to against powerhouses like Portugal and Germany.
It also seems very unlikely Johannsson would replace captain Clint Dempsey in the lineup, assuming Dempsey's groin pull is nothing to worry about.
So the real question, it seems, is whether Johannsson should replace Chris Wondolowski as the U.S.'s main option at striker off the bench—assuming the U.S. stays in a two-striker set.
Johannsson, because of his excellent season in Europe and in part because he is a dual-national player who chose to represent the U.S. this past year, is the fan favorite.
Wondolowski, on the other hand, has seemingly never been anyone's favorite, yet he continues to get results and confound expectations.
Aside from being MLS's leading scorer in three of the past four seasons, Wondo scored five goals in this summer's Gold Cup—which most fans dismissed because of the inferior level of competition. Since then, Wondolowski has scored three more times with two goals against South Korea in February (against a weakened South Korean side) and a goal against Mexico in April.
Against Azerbaijan, fans witnessed both the good and bad of Wondolowski. Thrown into the starting role only minutes before the match because of Dempsey's groin pull, Wondo had two chances to score before being withdrawn in the second half. The "good" of both chances was Wondolowski's ability to find space in the box. The "bad" was that both chances were saved (Wondolowski's "misses" can be seen at the 0:25 and 1:25 marks of the video below).
Johannsson, for his part, did score on his big chance against Azerbaijan. But he's also missed a number of chances in his other seven caps for the U.S. Johannsson has played a significant substitute role against Bosnia, Panama, Scotland and Ukraine and started games against Jamaica and Austria. In three of those games the U.S. was shut out, and Johannsson contributed little.
Johannsson does, however, offer a bit more than Wondolowski in terms of pace, one-versus-one ability and creativity. It is in those areas that he is more likely to be of help to the U.S. in the World Cup.
The debate will continue, as there is no clearly correct choice. While many fans will continue to prefer Johannsson and treat Wondolowski as the team's whipping boy, the evidence to this point doesn't suggest a clear winner.
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