STANFORD, Calif. — Aron Johannsson angered a few folks back home in Iceland when he chose to make his World Cup bid with the United States and not his parents’ homeland where they still live today.
Born in Alabama, Johannsson moved to Iceland at age 3. The speedy young forward, who scored 26 goals this season for the Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, figures he might be able to sway some Icelandic fans and convince them to cheer for him as he heads to Brazil as part of coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man roster announced Thursday.
Johannsson dealt with an ankle injury that sidelined him for two weeks late in the season, but he has bounced back and hopes to make an impact in a group of forwards missing American star Landon Donovan after he was among the seven players cut this past week.
Forwards include Jozy Altidore, Johannasson’s former AZ teammate; captain Clint Dempsey; and fellow newcomer Chris Wondolowski. Johannsson beat out Terrence Boyd, a young American with Rapid Vienna.
“I think it’s consistency to score goals. It’s obviously important,” Johannsson said.
Last August, FIFA approved his change of association so he could make his push with the United States and not Iceland, which has never reached a World Cup. His parents are there, and the 23-year-old Johannsson understands why some people might have been upset.
“It was my decision. Everybody has their own opinion,” Johannsson said. “They were not happy with it then, but hopefully they’ll root for me in Iceland and hopefully when I come back.”
Donovan still considers himself among the best choices for the U.S., though Klinsmann said others in camp were slightly ahead.
“I don’t agree with that assessment,” Donovan said Saturday after rejoining the LA Galaxy. “I think I was at least as good as everybody else in camp, so from that standpoint, I don’t agree with it. I think you guys that know me well know I’m pretty honest when it comes to my assessment. When I say I don’t play well, I didn’t play well. When I say I played well, I think I played well, and I think I trained and played very well in camp. I think I was one of the better players, so that’s why it stings a little.”
When Johannsson switched to the U.S. national team, the Football Association of Iceland released a statement questioning the forward’s links to U.S. soccer while saying, “There is no logic behind Aron relinquishing his Icelandic soccer identity.”
Johannsson insists he had many reasons for joining the U.S., without offering specifics. He has dual citizenship to make it possible.
He regularly vacationed in Florida growing up and spent a week one summer as a teen attending the IMG Academy in Bradenton, before later returning for a full year. He then went home to his club in Iceland during the summer of 2008.
Johannsson had represented Iceland at the under-21 level.
“Iceland’s a small country, under 330,000 or something. In the beginning they weren’t too happy about my decision but now I think everybody’s excited to hopefully see the first guy with Iceland be in the World Cup. I guess most of the people there are rooting for me and they’re happy.”
Klinsmann is counting on Johannsson’s goal production transferring to the national team as the Americans face a daunting Group G featuring Ghana, which eliminated the U.S. the past two World Cups; newly crowned Real Madrid Champions League winner Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal; and Germany, Klinsmann’s home country that he coached to the 2006 World Cup semifinals.
Johannsson has seven career appearances with the national team and one goal, which came during World Cup qualifying. Johannsson and Graham Zusi each scored in second-half stoppage time as the U.S. stunned Panama 3-2 last October, eliminating the Panamanians.
Johannsson’s run with AZ had him on pace to challenge the record of 31 goals by an American in a European club season, set by Altidore with AZ during the 2012-13 season. Klinsmann’s choices with this roster show he isn’t scared of youth and inexperience. Only five of the 23 have appeared in a World Cup.
“They grow,” Klinsmann said. “It’s just a developmental path you go through. Sooner or later you break through in the national team like Wondo did over the last two years. He was also still kind of missing those goals with us, then the Gold Cup came and Wondo came.
“For Aron and for Terrence, they are with us for a year or two. It’s the same path. They build more confidence in their club teams, they get the goals in their club teams. They understand the different levels, wherever they play and the national team and also where they play in other leagues. It’s just a path they have to go through and develop and be hungry every day in the trainings and build that consistency and build that confidence to do it also on an international stage.”