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.