When looking at the roster for the U.S. Men’s National Team, the positions that seem to be the most well-rounded tend to be the midfield and the goalkeeping. The striker position always seems to be slightly up in the air; it seems like there is one solid in-and-out starter at the position and then a struggle for that second spot.
The good news, however, for the USA going into the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is that for the first time in a long time, the USMNT’s most talented strikers are both under the age of 25. Everyone knows that Jozy Altidore is going to start. He’s had rough time at Sunderland because of the dreadful play of their midfield and defense but has started playing better recently. However, the wildcard for the USMNT’s trip to Brazil is not Altidore, but his former teammate at AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Eredivisie, Aron Johannsson.
Johannsson leads AZ Alkmaar with 12 goals and is third in the Eredivisie in scoring. He’s helped lead his team through a successful group campaign where they now face FC Slovan Liberec from the Czech Republic in the round of 32. He’ll have a huge impact on the continued success of AZ Alkmaar in the competition and — depending on his performance — could be looked at by major European clubs. At the moment, he’s even rumored to be targeted by English Premier League side Stoke City.
Not only is Johannsson comfortable with Altidore beside him up top due to their time together at AZ Alkmaar, but they actually play really well off of each others’ strengths and weaknesses. Johannsson is the type of annoying striker that always turns up in the right place at the right time while Altidore’s strength and speed is a formidable match for most opposition. The more dangerous Altidore becomes, the more dangerous Johannsson becomes.
I’ll give you that the team is far more likely to start out in the formation that head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has been trying out with Clint Dempsey or Landon Donovan playing a position that’s in between winger and striker, but the USMNT looks far more comfortable in a 4-4-2. If they get behind in a game or desperately need points in the group they could switch back to their more comfortable formation, giving Johannsson an opportunity to shine.
It may not be this World Cup that Johannsson gets his opportunity to play a lot of minutes, but at just 23, he should be a main fixture for the next two. Johannsson will be a key piece that will keep the USA going strong at an international level well beyond the careers of USMNT legends like Donovan and Dempsey. Expect big things from the Icelandic-raised American in Brazil as well as in the near future.