SAN JOSÉ, Costa Rica – First came the chants and the signs questioning the Americans’ idea of fair play – in reference, of course, to March’s now infamous snow game.
Then, as the US national team bus was leaving Juan Santamaria International airport on Wednesday, a pair of eggs splattered against the glass.
Par for the course, really, in Central America, but a whole new experience for newly cap-tied forward Aron Johannsson, who had a front-row view as he and his teammates came under fire ahead of Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica (10 pm ET, beIN Sport).
“It was a little more than I expected,” Johannsson (above right) admitted to a small group of reporters on Wednesday before US training, “but I guess they are excited for the game. So are we.”
“I was told it’s going to be a big game because of the snow game in the US,” he continued. “The fans are going to be really excited and they’re going to do their best to disturb us from the game, but we’re concentrating on the game and the three points.”
Make no mistake, gamesmanship is in full effect in Costa Rica, something that should come as no surprise considering the US has handed the Ticos two painful defeats this year and sent them to an ultimately disappointing World Cup playoff vs. Uruguay with a last-second goal in the 2009 CONCACAF Hexagonal finale.
Of course, Johannsson had nothing to do with any of those results, but that doesn’t mean he won’t bear some of the abuse from the crowd at the Estadio Nacional should he make his World Cup qualifying debut on Friday.
Whether that will be as a starter or off the bench remains to be seen – former AZ Alkmaar teammate and incumbent starter Jozy Altidore was cleared to train with the squad despite missing Sunderland’s match last Saturday with what was described as a hamstring injury – but it’s clear he’s already transitioned to life as a US international.
Though he has just one previous camp and cap under his belt against Bosnia, Johannsson said soccer has been the “universal language” that’s allowed him to find his place in the group quickly.
“I’m not surprised because Jozy told me that the guys were amazing, it was a nice group of guys,” he said. “They’ve been really welcoming and after two days in Bosnia, I felt like I was part of the group already.”
It certainly helps that the striker, who chose the US over Iceland, made an instant impact in Sarajevo.
“He had limited action, but I think you could see his confidence in the box, trying to make people miss, taking that extra touch trying to get a shot off,” goalkeeper Tim Howard told reporters on Wednesday. “His link-up play was really good, too. I think there were a few times in the Bosnia game where he pulled off and came a little bit deeper, got the ball and connected the play.
"Again, [he has] a ton of confidence. I don’t know where they get it from. I didn’t have that when I was a kid.”
There’s no reason to think Johannsson’s confidence in red, white and blue won’t grow as he becomes more acclimated, too.
His role still isn’t defined just yet – he can play both on the wing and centrally – but that figures to become more clear the more time he spends with Jurgen Klinsmann and his new teammates.
And in the meantime, US fans will surely hope his rich form for AZ will trickle over to the national team as he attempts to augment Altidore’s production on the international level and replace it with his club.
“I’m focused on doing well [with AZ] and filling the shoes that Jozy left,” Johannsson said. “They’re big shoes to fill.”