Since filing his one-time international switch from Iceland to the United States men’s national team this summer, Aron Johannsson has been on fire in front of goal, scoring 20 goals in all competitions for AZ Alkmaar in the 2013-14 campaign thus far.
In 2013, Johannsson earned six caps for the U.S., playing in every game after his switch except the World Cup qualifier against Mexico. He also earned his first international goal for the U.S., hitting a late strike from distance to seal the U.S.’s win over Panama in October.
When the USMNT kicks off the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, it will be doing so against heated-rival Ghana, who has knocked the U.S. out of the last two competitions. It doesn’t get any easier after that, with Portugal and then Germany to follow in the remaining group-stage games.
The U.S. will need to be in top form in Brazil to escape its proverbial “group of death” and Jurgen Klinsmann needs to give serious consideration to starting Johannsson for the U.S. to do so.
In Klinsmann’s preferred 4-2-3-1, there are essentially four attacking positions up for grabs. At this point, the likely starters in those four positions are Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, Graham Zusi and Jozy Altidore. Altidore’s troubles with Sunderland are well-documented at this point, although manager Gus Poyet recently praised Jozy’s value to the team.
Altidore has done well in recent weeks with his hold-up play and willingness to battle up front as the lone striker, something the U.S. could well need in the World Cup, playing against superior competition. But the worrying thing about Jozy’s form so far in the English Premier League is his lack of goals—just two in 30 games for Sunderland this season. Altidore admits that his confidence right now is low and told the Sunderland Echo on Tuesday, “I’m freezing up in front of goal.”
If Klinsmann decides to stick with his single-striker set, picking a starter up top is going to be a difficult decision. Altidore can give the team the physical presence it will most likely need, as possession favors the U.S. opponents. However, Johannsson seems the more likely to finish the few chances the U.S. will create.
The other option for Klinsmann is to play Johannsson wide, or underneath the striker. Johannsson would seem to be able to give the U.S. a presence as the team’s No. 10, but was given that role in an unimpressive start against Austria in November. The other problem with slotting Johannsson in underneath the striker is that the role will most likely be occupied by Clint Dempsey, the team’s best goalscorer.
Klinsmann hasn’t yet given Johannsson a start out wide, something many fans have been clamoring for. At outside midfielder, the competition will likely be Landon Donovan, Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya (assuming Fabian Johnson plays left-back).
Johannsson isn’t a natural wide midfielder, but he is a smart footballer and has a deft touch few on the team can match. It’s hard to believe he couldn’t play well on the outside.
Bedoya started six out the team’s last seven games in 2013, but failed to make an impact in most of the matches he played. He clearly impressed Klinsmann with a strong Gold Cup and has been a regular with Nantes in France’s Ligue 1.
Donovan and Zusi will be hard to supplant as the starters (both have been exceptionally strong in 2013), but Klinsmann should look for unorthodox ways to get Johannsson on the field at the World Cup. His touch, tactical awareness and form should make the U.S. a better side.
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