6614_isi_johannssonaron_usmntjt053114204 John Todd/isiphotos.com
Player Spotlight

Aron Johannsson Talks World Cup and Chemistry

The 23-year-old Icelandic-American is a relative newcomer to the U.S. national team, but he doesn't feel like an outsider. ASN's Brian Sciaretta spoke to Johannsson about team spirit and the World Cup
BY Brian Sciaretta Posted
June 06, 2014
11:55 AM
FOR MANY SOCCER PLAYERS with dual nationality, there comes a time when they must choose which country they will represent internationally. And yes, the decision process can be complex and very personal.

For Aron Johannsson, 23, that point came last summer when he was being courted by both the United States and Iceland. Born in Alabama but raised in Iceland, he grew up playing for Icelandic youth national teams. After exploding onto the scene in the Danish Superliga with AGF Aarhus, however, Johannsson caught the eye of U.S. national team coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Two days after the United States' Gold Cup victory last summer, Johannsson announced that he would file his one-time change of association with FIFA and represent the United States internationally.

Ten months later, Aron Johannsson is on the U.S. World Cup team and is now in Jacksonville in final preparations for the tournament. He insists that at the time he decided to make his switch, the possibility of making the 2014 World Cup team was not on his mind.

“No, not really,” Johannsson recalled of his initial World Cup thoughts last summer. “The dream was pretty distant at the time.”

The reaction back in Iceland was decidedly mixed, and the country’s FA president, Geir Thorsteinsson, released a very critical statement urging the public to pressure Johannsson to change his mind. Over the coming months, Icelandic soccer fans have gradually warmed to the idea that Johannsson is poised to become the first player of Icelandic blood to play in a World Cup.

“At first it was maybe not the best feedback I was getting,” Johannsson said. “But I think now, they’re happy to have a guy going to the World Cup that was raised in Iceland. I can’t speak for all of the people in the country but I think most of them are very supportive.”

Iceland’s loss turned out to be a massive gain for the United States as Johannsson's 2013-14 season—26 goals in all competitions for AZ Alkmaar—was among the best showings of any American player overseas.

Any doubt as to whether or not his goal scoring form at AZ Alkmaar would be carried over the U.S. national team were quickly erased in the first friendly ahead of the World Cup, when Johannsson, a late substitute, scored the final goal in a 2-0 victory over Azerbaijan.

Meanwhile Jozy Altidore, who is ahead of Johannsson on the U.S. depth chart, hasn't scored for club or country in 2014.

Johannsson knows the former AZ player Altidore quite well from their playing days together in 2013. Johannsson even credits Altidore for discussing the positive aspects of the U.S. national team which helped in his decision to switch his affiliation from Iceland.

He saw Altidore score 31 goals in a season in the Netherlands and is convinced a turnaround is not far off.

“Jozy is a good player,” Johannsson explained. “From what I’ve been reading, he’s been getting too much bad media. He plays well. For example, in the game against Azerbaijan, he was holding the ball really well and connecting with players really well. He didn’t score and I know strikers are judged by scoring goals but you also have to look at how he plays in the game.”

“It’s strange, actually,” he continued. “When you’re in good form it seems like every time you hit the ball it goes into the back of the net. But on the other hand when you’re in bad form, it’s really hard to score a goal. It can give you tremendous confidence to just get that one goal. Hopefully that’s what happens with Jozy. He’s going to get that one goal and go on a run in the World Cup.”

“Everybody who plays this game knows that confidence is a really big part of soccer. The last year I played well scoring goals on a regular basis and that definitely helped with my confidence.”

Johannsson has plenty of reasons to feel confident these day,s as he has just signed a four-year extension with AZ Alkmaar and will now play under new head coach Marco van Basten—a huge figure in soccer circles who has coached the Dutch national team and was one of the best European forwards of the past 30 years.

With another strong season in the Eredivisie, Johannsson could find suitors willing to pay a high transfer fee for his services, but he is content to play at AZ. He cites the opportunity to play under van Basten as a key factor.

“I’m happy at AZ and I like being there,” Johannsson explained. “I would love to have a few more years there. If I do well, obviously, then I can go away if someone comes to buy me. But I’m happy there.”

“I haven’t talked to him but obviously I’m really excited,” Johannsson added of van Basten. “It’s the same thing I have here with the national team. He was a World Cup striker and one of the best of his generation. Hopefully he can help me to become even better as a goal scorer and I can continue scoring goals and doing well.”

For now, however, Johannsson is focused on the World Cup. With only eight caps, he is one of the team’s newcomers, but he feels completely integrated into the group.

He is very close with Mix Diskerud, another dual national who opted to play for the United States.

“Aron is a cool cat,” Diskerud sad. “We hang out a lot off the field. That is probably why we connect so well on the field as well. We have the same type of humor. It's fun to be with him and I like him a lot. If I can give him any assists, I'm happy for him.”

But the goodwill within the squad carries over from the first player to the 23rd.

“Everybody is so open and so welcoming,” Johannsson said. “I remember it from experience in my first time in Bosnia. After only two, three days, I felt like I was part of the group. For me there, there are no issues in the locker room. No problems, whatsoever. Everybody is trying to help each other and that’s what I think makes us stronger.”

“We want to be as one team and we want to be as strong as we can.”

Would you like to see Johannsson starting against Nigeria—or in Brazil? Share your thoughts on the Iceman below.

Brian Sciaretta is an American Soccer Now columnist and an ASN 100 panelist. Follow him on Twitter.

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