Aron Jóhannsson’s latest goal a reminder: U.S. forward picture starting to look pretty clear


Twenty-two goals in all competitions is not a bad way to say ‘Hello’ to the Eredivisie, and for U.S. international Aron Jóhannsson, that’s only seven months worth of work. After his latest salvo in AZ Alkmaar’s 1-1 draw on Saturday with Utrecht, the 23-year-old is up to 22 all-competition goals this season. To put that in perspective, Jozy Altidore scored 31 times in his much ballyhooed 2012-13, also with the North Holland club.

Another American hopeful was also on the field today at the AFAS Stadion, but Juan Agudelo couldn’t match his countryman’s impact. In his fifth league appearance with his new club, the Stoke CIty loanee went 73 minutes without a shot on goal. Jóhannsson only managed one greater, but heading home Roy Beerens’ 21st minute cross from the edge of the six-yard box, the Alabama-born striker recorded his 14th league goal of the season.

There was a time not so long when Jóhannsson’s chances of going to Brazil seemed more wish than reality, but with his performances in Holland only reinforcing what we saw at the end of 2013, a player that wasn’t even in the pool this time last year has become a near-lock. Along with Altidore and D.C. United’s Eddie Johnson, Jurgen Klinsmann seems to have three sure bets at forward for this summer’s World Cup squad.

When you consider the positional flexibility of Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan, the entire U.S. forward corps may be set. When talking about alternatives, Steve Davis debated the virtues of Agudelo, Terrence Boyd, Herculez Gomez, and Chris Wondolowski, but the debate may end up more complicated. Those four many not only be competing against each other, but they may also be competing against the extra midfielder or defender Klinsmann could add at their expense. With Dempsey and Donovan, the U.S. doesn’t need four true forwards, particularly since Dempsey is currently seen as a starter beneath Altidore up top.

Between three goalkeepers and the three apparent forward locks, the U.S. has 17 other spots to divide between the back line, midfield, and potentially another forward. Depending on injuries, potential match ups, or just fit, Klinsmann may decide a ninth player in the middle or at the back is more valuable than a fourth true forward. Given the players that already locks, he has that option.

As for Jóhannsson, here’s a YouTube-quality version of today’s goal. With efforts like this, he may be the third of three true forwards going to Brazil.

“Overweight” Costa comes to Mourinho’s defense

Diego Costa, Chelsea FC
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Diego Costa says he and his Chelsea teammates are to blame for Chelsea’s horrid start to the 2015-16 Premier League season.

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Speaking Thursday, during a bit of downtime over the current international break (Costa was left out of Vicente del Bosque’s squad for Spain’s final two EURO 2016 qualifiers this week), Costa placed the majority of blame at the feet of the entire team, but went on to most harshly critique himself for coming into the season unfocused and “overweight.”

Costa, on his lack of fitness and form to begin the season — quotes from the Guardian:

“We know we’re not in the form we were supposed to be at the beginning of the season. We need to blame the players because we came back from holiday very confident, thinking we could go back into how it was last season, and then realized the team was already in a bad situation.

“I’m going to be very honest: maybe a few weeks ago, five or six weeks ago, I was not on top of my game. At least physically. We talk within the players and we know that, maybe at the beginning, we were not 100 percent as we were supposed to be when we got here. I got injured at the end of last season and then I went on holiday. Maybe I got out of my diet and, when I came back, I was not the way I was supposed to be. I was a little bit overweight. That affected my game. You can be selfish and blame it on the manager but I’m not going to do that. I’m responsible 100%, and so are the other guys.

Given that Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said on Thursday he doesn’t quite know what’s wrong with the defending Premier League champions, hearing someone — anyone — speak up and explain the club’s worst start to a season in 37 years will surely be a welcome sound to any Blues supporter’s ears.

[ MORE: Liverpool appoint Klopp as manager | Allardyce to Sunderland? ]

Costa, who is eligible to return from suspension next weekend when Aston Villa visit Stamford Bridge, has scored just one goal in league play this season (six appearances) after scoring 20 in 26 games last season.

Sam Allardyce to open talks with Sunderland

Sam Allardyce, West Ham United FC
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Now that Liverpool have selected and named their new manager, it appears Sunderland are finally ready to move forward with their own managerial search. (That’s clearly a joke, because it implies Liverpool and Sunderland ever duke it out for the same managerial candidate.)

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Anyway, the Black Cats will have to hire someone to replace the recently-departed Dick Advocaat at some point. We all knew that, despite the fact he’s probably earned a shot at that level, Bob Bradley was never really going to be considered for the job. With that in mind, if you’re not going to endear yourself to the entire United States of America with this hire, you might as well go for the best unemployed manager who’ll actually consider your approach.

That’s what Sunderland chairman Ellis Short appears to have done, as it was reported Thursday that despite an initial reluctance from Sam Allardyce — let’s be honest, he actually was holding out hope for the Liverpool job — the 60-year-old most recently in charge of West Ham United was willing and ready to enter into negotiations with the northeastern club.

One of the major sticking points during Sunderland’s courting of Allardyce is expected to be his demand for autonomy in the transfer market as well as a sizable transfer budget to sign his own players during the January window.

[ MORE: Advocaat: Sunderland squad too thin, chairman to blame ]

Allardyce seems like the no. 1 guy you’d like to bring in to steady a capsized ship — cough Sunderland cough — in any situation. Not only does he have a successful track record in the Premier League, but he’s the kind of no-nonsense leader a club like Sunderland so desperately needs as they find themselves in yet another relegation battle just eight games into the new season.

Short hopes to have Allardyce signed, sealed and delivered when the Premier League returns to action next weekend. In that event, Allardyce’s first game in charge of Sunderland would be a trip to West Bromwich Albion. His first home fixture? Home to Tyne-Wear derby rivals Newcastle United, a club whose boisterous fanbase still holds a great deal of disdain for Big Sam. Sometimes the football gods really are looking out for us.