Jozy Altidore’s Replacement Is an Icelandic Kevin Bacon Lookalike
Aron Jóhannsson is going to be a hero or a goat. Either way, he’ll be in the game.
The MRI results are in and the USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann is “full of hope” striker Jozy Altidore will be able to return from his hamstring injury. Sounds dire. Any time a recovery process includes hoping, you can count on seeing the injured player in street clothes. And if Jozy is rocking Levi’s then all those eyes driving up ESPN ratings will be on Aron Jóhannsson, the Alabama-born ringer for young Kevin Bacon, who will be sitting on top of the team’s 4-2-3-1 formation. He’s a cross between a mouseketeer and a Viking warrior and he’s our new hope.
Who is this 23-year-old, would-be phenom? Unlike many of his dual-national teammates, Jóhannsson was born to foreigners – students at the University of South Alabama in Mobile – on American soil. The family moved home when he was three, but the toe-head’s continental connection remained strong thanks to regular vacation in Florida and a few years at the IMG Academy for soccer prodigies in Bradenton, Florida. He was good enough to skip college and sign with a club back on his frozen island before getting the hell out of there and moving to the Danish then Dutch league, where he found himself backing up Altidore at AZ Alkmaar. When Altidore graduated to the English Premier League this season, Aron took over striking duties and finished the season third in Eredivisie with 17 goals. He has, in short, done this before.
But Jóhannsson’s story remains improbable. With 10 caps for Iceland’s under-21 team, he looked primed to play his international games for the national team Íslendingars affectionately call “Strákarnir Okkar.” He made the switch to the Yanks in large part because of Altidore’s prodding. Altidore may have pointed out that Iceland has never played in a World Cup and that having a larger fan base – Cincinnati has a bigger population than Iceland – might be fun. Logical as it was, Jóhannsson’s move angered his countrymen, but as he told the Washington Post last month, “Now they are happy to have a guy going to the World Cup who was raised up in Iceland.”
That’s the biography, but what does Jóhannsson bring to the USMNT? Not what Altidore does, that much is for damn sure. Altidore is a strong, target forward, whose midfielders pepper him with balls that he’s expected to hold up as the cavalry arrives. Jóhannsson isn’t that kind of player. He’s more creative than Altidore, but less imposing. He’s crafty with the ball at his feet but can also find open spaces and score with his head. Some think that he might serve the Stars and Stripes better than Altidore. Against Portugal, he’ll be given the opportunity to fool rather than overpower or overtake a duo of bench-warming backs.
Tactics can be debated. Experience, which Jóhannsson lacks, cannot. He looked green against Ghana and will likely be overmatched against Germany. The good news for Jóhannsson and the USMNT is this: He’s less inexperienced every time he plays.