Photo by John Todd/ISIPhotos.com
By IVES GALARCEP
SAN JOSE, Costa Rica — When Aron Johannsson stepped off the plane here on Tuesday with the U.S. Men’s National Team, he was already well aware that there would likely be an icy reception from Costa Rican fans when the Americans arrived ahead of Friday’s World Cup qualifier.
Johannsson learned quickly just how much animosity there is after the U.S. team’s snow-covered World Cup qualifying win last March. Two eggs were thrown at the team bus, coming close to the young striker, who took it in stride as part of the experience of being a U.S. player in hostile territory.
“It was a little bit more than I expected, but I guess they’re excited for the game, and so are we,” Johannsson said of the team’s reception upon arrival here Tuesday night.
“We’re focused on the game. We’re focused on the three points, and going to a World Cup.”
While it remains unclear just what role Johannsson will play in the upcoming qualifiers, he has made a good early impression on the team since making his debut against Bosnia & Herzegovina last month. The AZ striker was impressive in a brief cameo that offered a good glimpse of the qualities he can bring to the U.S. forward pool.
“He had limited action, but you can see his confidence in the box,” U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard said of Johannsson. “Trying to make people miss. Taking that extra touch, trying to get a shot off.
“His link-up play was really good too. I think there were a few times in the Bosnia game where he pulled off and came a little bit deeper, got the ball and connected the play,” Howard said. “Again, a ton of confidence. I don’t know where these guys get it from because I didn’t have that when I was a kid.
“It’s exciting to have them be a part of the group now,” Howard said. “I know we’re kind of at a late stage here, but it’s awesome to have new faces, and fresh faces, that are eager and hungry.”
Johannsson comes into U.S. camp on a roll for AZ, having scored goals in five straight games in all competitions to start the season.
“I’m focused on doing good, and focused on filling the shoes Jozy (Altidore) left,” Johannsson said. “Those are big shoes to fill so I’ve got to keep scoring goals and getting three points for my team.”
Johannsson’s new team, the U.S. team, has welcomed him with open arms, and he responded to that with an impressive debut vs. Bosnia and & Herzegovina.
“They’ve been really welcoming but it’s soccer, and soccer is a universal language,” Johannsson said. “It doesn’t matter if I’ve been with the guys a year or three days, I can play soccer with them. Now it’s just focusing on getting to know them even better.
“I’m not surprised (by the warm reception) because Jozy told me that the guys were amazing and it was a nice group of guys,” Johannsson said. “They’ve been real welcoming and even after two days in Bosnia I felt like I was part of the group.”
The 22-year-old striker admitted feeling a weight off his shoulders after finally making a decision on which national team to play for.
“I was thinking about it for almost a year or more so it’s a big relief and I couldn’t be more happy about my decision,” Johannsson said. “Now I’m just focused on training well and preparing for the game.”
As for the harsh response from the Icelandic soccer federation after his decision to play for the United States instead of the country where he was raised, and represented on the youth level?
“It’s the first time when someone Icelandic doesn’t play for the Icelandic team so I guess they didn’t know how to react, and some people were mad, but most of the people there support my decision and are rooting for me to go to the World Cup next year.”
Johannsson and the U.S. can take a major step toward securing a World Cup place with a win on Friday, and the U.S. team’s newest attacking option could wind up playing a key role in securing that berth.