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

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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.

MLS: NYCFC beat TFC in new coach Torrent’s debut

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NEW YORK (AP) — Jo Inge Berget scored twice and coach Domenec Torrent celebrated his New York City FC debut with a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC on Sunday.

Berget made it 2-1 in the 68th minute, following Maximiliano Moralez’s direct pass up the right channel and slotting it home.

NYCFC (9-3-4) tied it at 1 in the 51st minute on Berget’s back heel from the top of the 6-yard box.

Víctor Vazquez opened the scoring for Toronto (4-8-3) in the 37th minute. Vasquez outran his defender on Auro’s long ball up the right side and sent a chip shot over the onrushing goalkeeper.

NYCFC’s David Villa left the game in the 28th minute with a non-contact injury.

Torrent replaced Patrick Vieira in New York shortly after Vieira’s departure for OGC Nice was officially confirmed. Torrent had been the right-hand man to Pep Guardiola for the last 11 years, most recently at Manchester City.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 11 — Time to settle Groups A & B

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Day 12 of the 2018 World Cup is up next, on Monday, and with it begins the final round of group games to decide the 16 teams headed to the knockout rounds. For the next four days, we’ll be treated to four games each day.

Also, the end of 8 a.m. ET kickoffs. Hooray for sleeping in.

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

First up, the conclusion of Group A, where both the hosts, Russia, and Uruguay have already advanced with wins in their first two games. Now, the two meet in the southwestern city of Samara to determine who’ll go through to the round of 16 as the group winners, and who’ll be the runners-up. Most likely awaiting either of them will be Spain and Portugal, pending the order in which they finish in Group B.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ]

Speaking of Group B, Spain will finish group play against fourth-place and points-less Morocco, while Portugal have a tricky meeting with third-place Iran, who sit just a point behind the reigning European champions. The winner of Group B will face the runners-up of Group A, and vice versa.

Below is Monday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Monday, June 25

Group A
Uruguay vs. Russia: Samara, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Saudi Arabia vs. Egypt: Volgograd, 10 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group B
Spain vs. Morocco: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Iran vs. Portugal: Saransk, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Transfer rumor roundup: Emery raiding Sevilla; Wilshere’s suitor(s)

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Unai Emery has reportedly been in contact with at least one former player, Ever Banega, in an attempt to convince the Argentine midfielder to join him at Arsenal.

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Banega, who’ll turn 30 on Friday, played two seasons under Emery at Sevilla — where they won back-to-back Europa League titles (Banega was only at the club for the second and third of three straight from 2013-2016).

With Banega reportedly on the fence about whether or not to leave Sevilla again — he only just returned last summer after one season at Inter Milan — Emery is said to have made a personal call after Arsenal’s bid of roughly $23 million triggered the release clause in Banega’s contract. Sevilla will join Arsenal in the Europa League next season after finishing seventh in La Liga.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Jack Wilshere announced last week that he will leave Arsenal this summer — thus opening up the handful of games for which he was healthy and fit to play each season, perhaps for Banega — which leads us nicely to the final bit of transfer talk for Sunday: West Ham are interested in the 26-year-old, but are reportedly only willing to offer him a one-year contract.

The Hammers’ hesitancy is, of course, a response to his years-long battle with injuries — he’s made just 66 appearances over the last four PL seasons (three with Arsenal, one on loan to Bournemouth).

Two other clubs to keep an eye on, as they’ve reportedly indicated interest in Wilshere and/or been in contact already: Everton and Juventus.

Durmaz condemns Sweden fans’ racist abuse after World Cup loss

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KRASNODAR, Russia (AP) — Sweden midfielder Jimmy Durmaz says the racist abuse aimed at him over social media following the 2-1 loss to Germany at the World Cup has been “completely unacceptable.”

[ SCENARIOS: Who needs what, to finish where, in final round of group games ]

After coming on as a substitute, Durmaz gave away the free kick that led to Toni Kroos curling in an injury-time winner in Saturday’s group game. Durmaz has since been subjected to online abuse, including threats to his family.

Before a training session on Sunday, Durmaz — standing in front of the rest of the Sweden squad and beside coach Janne Andersson — read out a statement to the media from a mobile phone.

“When you threaten me, when you call me ‘Arab devil,’ ‘terrorist,’ ‘Taliban,’ then you have gone far beyond the limit,” Durmaz said in the statement, which was published on the Swedish Football Association’s website.

“And even worse, when you go after my family, my children, threaten them. Who does such a thing? It is completely unacceptable.”

Durmaz was born in Sweden to Assyrian parents who emigrated from Turkey.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

“I am Swedish and I am proud to play in the Swedish national team. That’s the biggest thing you can do as a football player,” he said in the statement. “I will never let any racists destroy that pride. We must all stand against all forms of racism.”

The Swedish FA has reported the abuse toward Durmaz to police.

“We do not tolerate a player being exposed to threats and violations,” said Hakan Sjostrand, secretary general of the Swedish FA. “It is unpleasant and very upsetting to see the treatment that Jimmy Durmaz has suffered. Completely unacceptable.”

The loss to Germany left Sweden tied on three points with its opponent. Both countries are three points behind Mexico with one game left. Sweden plays Mexico in Yekaterinburg on Wednesday, with Germany taking on South Korea at the same time.