As Aron Johannsson awaits approval from FIFA for the change of association application that will officially make him a part of the U.S. Men’s National Team, he is spending his first time in the group during the trip to Bosnia. The 21-year-old striker and former teammate of Jozy Altidore at AZ Alkmaar spoke with ussoccer.com about his journey as a soccer player, the time he spent in the United States, and his excitement about his future with the MNT.
ussoccer.com: First of all, welcome to the group. Can you give us a little bit about your background?
Aron Johannsson: “I was born in Mobile, Ala. All of my family is from Iceland and they went to school there for 3-4 years and that’s where I lived for my first three years before moving back to Iceland. We went back to America just about every year on holiday, mainly to Florida. I got into playing football when I was little. My parents said I was a difficult kid because I was always moving, playing and looking to have fun (laughs). They would give me a ball and I would just play for hours and hours. When I was around 8 years old - I can’t remember exactly - but it was then I told my dad that I was going to be a professional football player.
“One summer when I was a teenager, my mother was looking on the internet to see what I could do while we were on vacation in Florida and she saw the IMG Academy in Bradenton, so I went there for one week and really loved it. I went back to Iceland for one year before I went back to IMG for one whole year.”
ussoccer.com: Why did you choose to go to IMG?
AJ: “I chose to go to IMG because when you’re 16-17 in Iceland, you go to high school/college and it’s the time when everyone starts partying and I really wanted to avoid that. I went to the IMG Academy where I couldn’t do that every single day or weekend. There, I was able to focus on studying and playing soccer. I starting living with four other guys and like most Americans they were really open, speaking to me and helping me in the beginning and it was a really nice time.”
ussoccer.com: After IMG what happened next in your career?
AJ: “I had some offers to go to school and stay in the U.S., but I felt like I wanted to go back home to play for my Icelandic club and that was in the summer of 2008. I started playing with the first team at my club, but my dream was always to go abroad, to go away from Iceland to play professionally. In the summer of 2010, I got the opportunity to move to Denmark to really start my career.”
ussoccer.com: And from that point, when did things really start to happen for you?
AJ: “It took about one year after I moved to Denmark, because when I came to the club they had just got relegated in Denmark which basically meant I had one year to come into the system, to get a new home and to get settled. We won the first league and then we moved to the Superliga, the highest division in Denmark. The first striker got injured two weeks before the season and then I got my opportunity to play. I played well and the coach kept on having faith in me.”
ussoccer.com: What has the experience been like for you in your first MNT camp thus far?
AJ: “It’s been really nice. I was a little bit nervous when I first came in because I didn’t really know any players. I knew Jozy [Altidore] but that was it. There are some familiar names with the big players on the team but I didn’t really know them. After a half hour of meeting all the guys, it was nice to get that out of my system and talk to the guys who are all really open.”
ussoccer.com: What was the process like for you to decide to play for the U.S.?
AJ: “It took a little while. I talked to my family about it and it’s just a personal decision for me, and I feel it’s best for me and my family.”
ussoccer.com: What did your family say to you after you made your decision to play for the U.S.?
AJ: “They were happy for me. From the start they were always telling me to make the decision that is best for me and that’s what I did.”
ussoccer.com: For those who haven’t really seen you play yet, how would you best describe your style of play?
AJ: “I am a typical striker. I try to be really good in the box, to be good about anticipating where the ball is going to be and being in the right places.”
ussoccer.com: What are your goals and expectations for your first MNT camp?
AJ: “This is my first camp so I was just looking forward to meeting the players, the staff and training with them for the first time. Hopefully I continue to play well for my club in Holland and hopefully I can be selected to the squad once again and get some minutes.”
ussoccer.com: How will the move to Holland help you continue to develop as a player for both club and country?
AJ: When I first came there [AZ Alkmaar] I was injured for the first 1-2 months so I had to spend time in rehab and getting back on to the pitch. I finally started to play but another American was taking my spot (laughs). Jozy was playing and scoring every game so I couldn’t really complain. But when I got my minutes I tried to do my best and I scored three goals in five appearances. Now after Jozy was sold to Sunderland, the club sees me as the first striker. During the preseason things went really well. We played three competitive games and I have three goals so far, so things are going good. AZ Alkmaar is a club that allows you to make mistakes and they will sit down with you and teach you what to do and what not to do. It’s nice because it’s a development club and they try to help you become the man you want to be.”
ussoccer.com: How excited are you about this opportunity to become an international at this level?
AJ: “I am super excited! Especially to play for such a big country and for a country that is fighting for titles. The U.S. makes it to the World Cup every single time and there’s a lot of up and coming talent in the U.S. and they’re getting bigger and better by every moment, by every game. I hope to be a part of that and to also be part of a team that does even more than what they’ve been doing over the past few years.”
ussoccer.com: In Europe, give us a sense of what the MNT reputation is right now?
AJ: When I made my decision, people started talking to me about how soccer is getting bigger and bigger in the U.S. MLS is getting bigger and better, and everyone knows the U.S. is getting better everyday and I am happy to be a part of it.”
ussoccer.com: Because Jurgen was such a great striker, what is it like for you to play for one of the all-time greats who had such a special career?
AJ: “It’s special also. It is fantastic that I can train with a coach that has done it all before, someone who can teach me to be an even better player. When you come to the national team you are only together for a week or four days but he can give me pointers I can take away and think about everyday when I am back with my club.”
ussoccer.com: We have to ask - Has anyone told you that you look like Kevin Bacon?
AJ: [Laughs]. “Yeah! It’s been said a few times. The first time was when I was in Denmark. A reporter came to me and said, ‘You look a lot like Kevin Bacon.’ And from then, the nickname Aron Bacon stuck. Maybe because it’s my dance skills, I don’t know