Would Aron Johannsson’s dominant Eredivisie season be any less impressive in MLS?

7 Comments

There’s no question in my mind that Aron Johannsson should be in the mix for a starting spot for the United States come this summer’s World Cup. I’m fired up to watch him progress and become the most famous Icelandic-Alabaman of all-time (though I’m presuming he already may have that in the bag).

Yet as the 23-year-old AZ Alkmaar forward continues to absolutely deconstruct defenses in the Eredivisie — and to a lesser extent, the Europa League — I’ve had a nagging thought regarding the deft striker’s strike rate:

How much are we overestimating the Eredivisie? Would what Johannsson’s doing be any less impressive in MLS (excluding cosmetic pro-European emotions)?

Scoff if you will, but this thought was introduced to me by a longtime friend from the Netherlands who is now a professional coach in the States. I was asking him about the injury to Kevin Strootman and potential Eredivisie replacements on the Dutch national team when he told me, “Nick, the league just isn’t that good.”

Before I go any further, let me again point out my excitement over Johannsson. His highlight videos are passing the smell test and he’s scored for the States on the road in a World Cup Qualifier at Panama. He’s also got goals in Europa against Atromitos and Anzhi. That’s quite decent. There are myriad reasons to be enthusiastic over the youngster.

Back to my Dutch friend’s criticism of the current Eredivisie: He pointed to one of the only players in the Dutch top flight scoring more than Johannsson this season: Graziano Pelle. Here’s a 28-year-old striker with 47 goals in 53 Eredivisie matches over two seasons despite carrying a strike rate of five goals in 23 matches in two seasons of Serie A.

And then there’s Jozy Altidore and his well-documented struggles at Sunderland. While some pundits have been quick to point out how well he’s holding up the ball and making his teammates better, Altidore has a single goal in 23 appearances. This after 23 goals in 33 Eredivisie matches last season.

Whether or not you buy the Sporting Intelligence study that ranks Major League Soccer the No. 7 league in the world, above the Eredivisie, you’re duty-bound to ask yourself whether you were as excited for the big-goal MLS seasons for Chris Wondolowski, Mike Magee or Kenny Cooper.

I understand Johannsson is 23 — hence, the added excitement — but Altidore is 24 and many are rolling their eyes at the prospect of him leading the forward ranks in Brazil. The fact that presumed-World Cup forward Eddie Johnson hasn’t had a season like this anywhere is another question for another day.

The Eredivisie has two spots in the UEFA Champions League this year due a coefficient that has the Dutch league eighth in Europe, behind Portugal and Russia amongst other nations. Their coefficient is as close to Greece as is it to France.

So the question isn’t whether or not you should be excited about Aron Johannsson — He’s young, gifted and promising — it’s whether you should be turning a blind eye to the goal scorers in your backyard.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

Photo by Alessandro Sabattini/Getty Images
Leave a comment

TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

All of the The 2 Robbies content can be accessed by clicking on this link:

Click here for The 2 Robbies archive ]

Follow them on Twitter @The2Robbies

Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Leave a comment

MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.