STANFORD, Calif. – Aron Johannsson and Terrence Boyd bring distinct styles of play to head coach Jurgen Klinsmann’s US World Cup squad, but it’s hard not to notice some more general similarities between the two young forwards fighting for a ticket to Brazil.
Both are 23, playing in selling European leagues, and this season joined only three other American players in scoring 20 or more goals across all competitions in one season for a European team.
There’s still a bit of a hole in their international résumés, though – the pair, in 20 combined US caps, has managed just one goal: Johannsson’s game-winner in the dying seconds of the team’s final World Cup qualifier against Panama.
It’s nothing to worry about, says Klinsmann – it’s all part of the process, and one he witnessed first-hand with veteran San Jose Earthquakes forward Chris Wondolowski, who is competing with the pair for a roster spot.
“They grow, it’s just a developmental path that you go through it,” Klinsmann explained to reporters Wednesday at USMNT camp at Stanford University. “Sooner or later you break through in the national team, like Wondo did over the last two years. He was also kind of still missing those with us, and then the Gold Cup came and Wondo came, you know?”
Though Wondolowski burst on to the scene as a dark-horse Golden Boot winner in 2010 and has remained one of the most consistent strikers in the league since, he was unable to score for nearly two years after his national team debut in 2011.
Finally, in 2013, he bagged his first goal in a pre-Gold Cup friendly against Guatemala, bagged five more once the tournament started, and added to his total with strikes against South Korea and Mexico in friendlies in 2014.
Klinsmann envisions a similar path for his two young striking talents.
“For Aron and for Terrence, they have been with us for a year or two, it’s the same path,” Klinsman explained. “They build more confidence in their club teams, they get the goals in their club teams. They understand the different levels between wherever they play and the national team and also where they play in other leagues.”
Boyd, who bagged exactly 20 goals across domestic league, cup and Europa League play for Rapid Vienna in Austria, is hopeful that he can be the next player to take that jump.
“I’m still waiting for my chance and hope that I will use it in the friendlies and upcoming games,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “I’m just trying to translate my club form to the national team right now during practices, so I’m feeling very positive, feeling comfortable.”
That chance will almost certainly come, with friendlies against Azerbaijan and Turkey looming before the FIFA deadline for teams to submit their final World Cup rosters on June 2. But Boyd may have already started making a good impression, as he let it slip that he had scored a goal in one of two 60-minute closed-door scrimmages against LA Galaxy II on Tuesday.
Johannsson, who only linked up with the team last year and has been playing professionally four years more than Boyd, may have a step on his counterpart in terms of actually finding the scoresheet on the international level, but has been dealing some disappointment of his own, namely what he called an “almost season” for his club and an ankle injury that limited him during the stretch run. He did, however, score 26 goals for AZ Alkmaar, something he acknowledged was a big development in his game.
“I think it’s consistency in scoring goals,” he replied when asked what had changed most about his play in 2013-14. “Before I went to AZ I had periods where I was scoring and periods where I was not, and this last year has been consistent all over the year, so that’s obviously important as well.”
The Mobile native acknowledged that his ankle injury was still lingering in some form as showed up to camp on Tuesday after playing the full 90 minutes for AZ in their Europa League playoff loss on Sunday, but said he expected to be training at 100 percent on either Wednesday or Thursday.
As to what position he’ll play, Johannsson thinks it’s fairly clear: Klinsmann sees him as a striker, despite his experience as a wide attacker in a 4-3-3 formation as a young player. It’s a sentiment the player share.
To put it simply, he said, “I want to be able play close to the box and be able score goals.”