AMSTERDAM – When Aron Jóhannsson arrived at AZ Alkmaar last January, technical director Earnie Stewart proclaimed that the squad was adequately prepared for the eventuality that one of Jozy Altidore's suitors would name the right price.
Last July, Sunderland snared Altidore, fresh off bagging 31 goals across all competitions, including the KNVB Cup winner against PSV Eindhoven. Since then, Jóhannsson has kept busy proving Stewart right about an American forward for the second straight time.
The 23-year-old has quickly become Alkmaar's new star man, ringing up 22 goals in 37 competitive matches in the current campaign. Since taking over as starter this season, Jóhannsson has averaged a goal every 137 minutes of playing time, not far off Altidore's two-season AZ rate of one per 130 minutes.
As good as that all sounds, he says there's more to come.
"I think I am growing every day, learning new things, getting more mature by every minute," Jóhannsson told MLSsoccer.com after Sunday's loss at Ajax. It's different from Denmark [with AGF Aarhus], here I play as a lone striker. It's something I have to get used to. Here, it's more physical and tactical."
While his scoring rate with the club is slightly behind Altidore's, Jóhannsson may have several more games to play for chasing his former teammate's American record for goals in a single campaign. Not only is he following his predecessor's footsteps by topping the KNVB Cup goal chart with the holders awaiting a semifinal rematch with nearby rivals Ajax, but last week he also helped AZ put one foot in the Europa League Round-of-16 with a knockout opening win at Czech side Slovan Liberec.
Of course, all this club fun has come while manning the center forward position. Once all of his club business closes for the season, Jóhannsson will turn his thoughts to a World Cup roster drive, where once again Altidore stands ahead of him on the depth chart.
Much USMNT bubble discussion has discussed where he might fit into Jurgen Klinsmann's scheme for Brazil. While Jóhannsson would definitely be a handy impact sub to have around, he has also gained minor experience operating both out wide and in the hole pulling strings. According to the player, the answer to this quandary remains to be seen.
"Wherever the coach wants me, I will play there," said Jóhannsson. "I can play both of those other positions fairly well, so we'll see. I think we're still trying to figure that out."
Even if Klinsmann is trying to find the right role for him, Jóhannsson is certainly not taking it for granted that he will have one of the 23 golden tickets. He believes that first there is much left to do in Alkmaar.
"I try to keep the World Cup as far in the back of my mind as possible, because I am trying to focus on playing for AZ," said Jóhannsson, whose next chance to make Stewart look shrewd comes when his side defends a 1-0 first-leg edge in Thursday's home capper to the Slovan Liberec tie.
"If I keep on doing that, then there's a chance I can be at the World Cup."