Aron Jóhannsson linked with Stoke City: Are U.S. fans ready for another player at the Britannia?

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Eight million dollars is a lot of money, but it’s not that much when you’re talking about a 23-year-old averaging nearly two goals every three games in the Dutch first division. That, however, is the price that’s being mentioned in rumors connecting the Premier League’s Stoke City with a move for U.S. international Aron Jóhannsson, who is coming up on his one-year anniversary with AZ Alkmaar.  In the same transfer window in which he moved last season, the Alabama-born, Iceland-raised forward could be ready to take another step up, this time to one of the best leagues in the world.

Since moving to Holland from Danish club Aarhus last January, Jóhannsson has scored 14 times in 23 league appearances, 11 of those goals coming this season. Purchased for $2.58 million 12 months ago, Johannsson’s quick sale would allow last season’s Dutch Cup winners to turn  quick profit. If the move happens early in the window, they could be able to take a fraction of the profits and procure a new striker.

In what’s become a seller’s league, the question is less ‘can we afford to lose Jóhannsson’ than ‘could we get more later’? Sitting 13 points back after 18 (of 34) rounds, AZ have European but not title ambitions, something which may not prevent them from cashing in.

But we’re not here to discuss the AZ angle, as interesting as that is. If Jóhannsson wasn’t a U.S. international, this rumor wouldn’t warrant enough attention to make our daily rumor roundup. All the intrigue in this market behind a potential move is Jóhansson’s already much-discussed Americanness. And in that regard, Stoke couldn’t be a more controversial destination.

The Potters are the biggest Amerophiles in Europe, holding three U.S. internationals under contract and launching a failed move for a fourth this fall. But while Geoff Cameron has seen success, Brek Shea and Maurice Edu can’t get any time with Stoke (Juan Agudelo’s move fizzled after failing to gain a United Kingdom work permit). Six months ahead of the World Cup, how does it help the U.S. if Jóhannsson becomes a third player to see Stoke’s U.S. fetish compromise a regular place in the national team?

source: Reuters
Although Geoff Cameron is the one American to win regular time at Stoke, he has had to move to a new position to do so. (Photo: Rueters.)

Even Cameron’s success is tinged with one forgotten asterisk. A center back and central midfielder upon arriving at the Britannia, the former Houston Dynamo has been used at right back by both Tony Pulis and Mark Hughes. Yes, that move has earned him a regular spot with a decent Premier League team (never something to sneeze at), but it’s also cast Cameron as a type of utility man for the national team, with ‘utility man’ often the nicest way of saying somebody isn’t a starter. While the move has been a success for Cameron’s club career, it hasn’t helped him nail down the starting position he was competing for before moving to England.

After Edu’s disappearance and Shea’s loan to Barnsley, you can’t blame U.S. fans for wondering if a future at Stoke holds something for different for Jóhannsson. Yet whereas concerns about previous moves were tinged with trepidation about playing under Pulis’s atypical approach, now worries take a more traditional tact. Will Jóhansson actually play? Because whereas that was also problematic under Pulis, regular time under Mark Hughes would certainly further Jóhansson’s career.

To get that, he’d have to beat out Peter Crouch, the former England international who’s started 14 games for Hughes this season. Kenwyne Jones is also in the picture, with Jon Walters and Marko Arnautovic also capable of playing up top. But on talent alone, there’s no reason why Jóhannsson can’t eventually win significant time at Stoke.

But eventually is not now, and in a World Cup year — with a player who is right on that borderline to make the Brazil 2014 squad — it’s a chance not worth taking. As Jozy Altidore is discovering, transferring success from the goal-friendly Eredivisie to the Premier League is far from given. Not everybody can be Luis Suárez, and given Johannsson’s only make 23 career league appearances above the Danish league, there’s reason to think adjustment period might be particularly pronounced for the 23-year-old.

More than his Americanness, that’s what should concern U.S. Men’s National Team fans. It’s not that Jóhannsson lacks the talent (he doesn’t) or his status as a U.S. international makes him more likely to fail at Stoke (it doesn’t). The concern is the timeline before Brazil.

We’re six months out from the next World Cup, and players in frame for Jurgen Klinsmann’s squad need to be playing. Making a move from a sure-fire, you’re going to start every game environment to a new league, new club, and new depth chart could put Jóhannsson’s World Cup dreams in doubt.

Besides, if Stoke are interested now, they’ll still be interested in six months. Saying ‘no’ in January doesn’t mean you’ve turned your back on England. It just means you’re setting your sights on Brazil.

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”

Podolski after golazo finale: “This is like a great movie”

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Lukas Podolski has won a EURO, a World Cup, and the Bundesliga with two different sides.

Only Lothar Matthaus and Miroslav Klose have been capped more than Germany’s Polish born Podolski, and he received a hero’s send-off from the home crowd at Germany’s 1-0 win over England on Wednesday.

And of course he sent himself off in style with a gorgeous goal.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

Podolski said there were more than 30,000 people from Cologne at the match, where he won one of his two Bundesliga titles.

“That’s when you know where you home is, and that you’ve done a lot of good, also off the pitch,” Podolski said. “That makes me very proud.”

It was a perfect night to say goodbye, and the goal made it almost surreal (Thomas Muller called it “cheesy”).

From Goal.com:

“This is like a great movie,” he told ARD. “We win 1-0 and I score the goal.

“I know I have a left foot that was probably gifted to me by God, or someone up there, and I can always rely on it. I am proud of these last 13 years.”

Feel good hit of the Spring.