Four weeks ago, U.S. Men’s National Team forward Aron Johannsson and his club AZ Alkmaar were seven points out of the third-place position in the Eredivisie. That third-place spot is particularly important because it guarantees the club that holds it a qualifying spot in the Europa League. With that many points to overcome, many of the AZ players were resigned to the fact that if they were going to play Europa League, they’d more than likely have to earn their place during the post-season playoffs.
“When we lost against Feyenoord six games ago we thought we were going to the playoffs,” Johannsson said. “For the rest of the games we were mentally preparing ourselves as if we were going into the playoffs.”
But that was four weeks ago.
On Sunday, Johannsson scored two goals and added an assist to lead Alkmaar to a 4-1 win over Excelsior. The win landed AZ in third place in Eredivisie, clinching a sport in the Europa League. It was an improbable run highlighted by a hot streak of performances from the MNT forward that began three weeks ago.
Following a 3-1 win against ADO Den Haag, AZ matched up with FC Twente on April 26. Thirty-five minutes into the game, Alkmaar found itself up 2-0 after Johannsson flicked a cross into the back of the net with the outside of his left foot. Johannsson and the team held on for the remaining 65 minutes, and for the first time since February, AZ had won back-to-back games. The positive result berthed a positive thought. If AZ could keep winning, maybe they had a chance.
“We went into the game against NAC Breda realizing third place was possible.” Johannsson said.
The team knew that continuing to win was the only way that possibility could turn into reality, but after 82 minutes AZ trailed 2-1. In the 83rd, Robert Muhren leveled the score line for AZ, but at this stage a tie was not much more valuable than a loss. With two minutes to go, Johannsson kept the Europa League hopes alive, blasting in a stunning long-range goal from 35 yards out.
“I’ve never shot from that far before,” Johannsson said. “We needed to win the game obviously so we could have a chance at third place, and the whole game NAC Breda was defending. They had almost 11 in their own box in the last 30-40 minutes. I didn’t’ get any chances and I barely saw the ball. Finally I got the ball and it was a little bit far away, but I just said ‘screw it’ and decided to shoot on goal. Obviously the result was great.”
With the win AZ moved into a tie with Feyenoord for third with 59 points. Had the season ended that day, Feyenoord would have claimed the automatic Europe League bid based on goal differential. But there was still one game left to play. With Feyenoord holding a huge advantage in the tiebreaker, Johannsson and his teammates knew that they’d need a win in their last game with Excelsior and some luck with the other result.
“After the NAC Breda game, we were thinking the whole week about Excelsior and we knew we had to win to have any chance and hope for good results,” Johannsson said. “It was also tough for us because it was not in our own hands. In a situation like that you can only focus on yourself and get those three points and hope for the best.”
Five minutes into the match with Excelsior, AZ proved they were ready to take care of business. And Johannsson was ready for the spectacular.
“The ball came into the box and bounced high in the air. It was on turf and it was spinning a lot, so I was trying to read where the ball would eventually come down and I made it there before the defender,” Johannsson said. “The ball was at a perfect height and I just decided to do a bicycle kick. I’m really happy it worked out.”
Johannsson’s goal sent the number of AZ fans that had traveled to Stadion Woudestein into a frenzy and gave his team an early 1-0 lead. It was good thing he heard the roar of the supporters, since he wasn’t quite sure it had gone in.
“I felt it when I hit it and it felt very good,” Johannsson sad. “First I heard everybody celebrating and then I just looked up in the goal and saw the ball, so I didn’t see it in exactly the same time as everybody else. It was amazing. Not only was it a beautiful goal, but we needed to score a goal early in the game to help us build confidence and this was after five minutes. From every perspective it was really nice.”
Bicycle-kick goals are rare, but for Johannsson, this one was not a fluke.
“Two days before the game I was training, we had a striker training at the club, and I was training bicycle kicks. So it was really fortunate the ball came exactly there in this game. We were training and we had the trainer play us the ball and I was kind of taking it off my chest and putting in the air and taking, I think it was five or six bicycle kicks. So it was probably in the back of my head in the game when the ball came in that position.”
FC Dallas Academy alum Emerson Hyndman was named U-20 MNT Captain for the 2015 FIFA World Cup in New Zealand. Hyndman is one of six U-20 players that appeared in all six matches for the U-20 MNT at the 2015 CONCACAF U-20 Championship in Jamaica in January, where he scored once and led the team with three assists. The 19-year-old has also earned a cap with the senior U.S. Men’s National Team, debuting on September 3, 2014 as a second-half sub in the USA’s 1-0 win against the Czech Republic. He also played a friendly with the U.S. U-23 MNT on October 14, 2014 when he started against Brazil in Brasilia.
Aron Johannsson and his Dutch club AZ Alkmaar entered the weekend tied with Feyenoord for the Eredivisie’s third-place position and the Europa League spot that goes along with it. Johansson was clearly set on AZ taking that position as he scored a pair of goals, including a full bicycle. Johannsson also added an assist in AZ Alkmaar’s 4-1 win over Excelsior. With Feyenoord losing, AZ are officially in the Europa League for next season.
Zach Pfeffer (Continental FC Delco) scored a huge stoppage-time game winner for the Philadelphia Union in its match with D.C. United on Sunday night, finishing a sliding left footed shot in the box to end the Union’s four-game losing streak.
New York Red Bulls Academy product Juan Agudelo scored the opening goal in New England Revolution’s 1-1 draw with Toronto FC. Agudelo’s goal came on a diving header that was set up by FC Dallas alum London Woodberry, who was credited with the assist. Woodberry was named to the MLS Team of the Week.
Lonestar SC Academy product Khiry Shelton sent in the game-tying goal for New York City FC in its game with the Chicago Fire. NYC played much of the game with 10-men after a first-half red card, but were able to rally from a two-score deficit to save the point. The goal was Shelton’s first of his MLS career.
Pateadores alum Luis Gil assisted on Real Salt Lake’s only goal in their 4-1 defeat to Montreal Impact. Gil has been quite the all-around assist man this year, having also recorded four with the U.S. U-23 MNT.Will Bruin (St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri Alum) was named to the MLS Team of the Week for his double for the Houston Dynamo against the Portland Timbers. Bruin’s brace helped the team to a 2-1 victory.
In a weekend where Champions League and Europe League spots awaited clinching, where promotions lay for the taking, and where streaks sought to be continued, there to respond were members of the U.S. Men’s National Team who made an impact with their clubs.
Fabian Johnson and his club Borussia Monchengladbach made history this weekend. Entering just one win away from clinching a group-phase spot in next season’s Champions League, Johnson started and gave ‘Gladbach 78 strong minutes, which helped propel the Foals to capture the needed victory by a 2-0 score line against Werder Bremen. This marks the first time ‘Gladbach has punched a ticket to the Champions League group stage. The Foals have not lost a league match in which Johnson has started since the winter break, going 10-0-2 in that stretch.
Staying in Germany, Alfredo Morales and his squad FC Ingolstadt had an opportunity to secure first place in the 2. Bundesliga and promotion, needing a win against RB Leipzig. Leipzig got on the board early, scoring in the game’s fourth minute. In the 39th Morales came on, and just before the halftime whistle Ingolstadt leveled at 1-1 with a penalty kick. In the 76th minute Morales assisted on the goal that proved to be the game winner. In the end, he helped hoist the 2. Bundesliga silverware that declared Ingolstadt was headed to the top division.
Moving north, Aron Johannsson and his Dutch club AZ Alkmaar entered the weekend tied with Feyenoord for the Eredivisie’s third-place position and the Europa League spot that goes along with it. Johannsson was clearly set on AZ taking that position as he scored a pair of goals, including a full bicycle. Johannsson also added an assist in AZ Alkmaar’s 4-1 win over Excelsior. With Feyenoord losing, AZ are officially in the Europa League for next season.
In MLS, Clint Dempsey continued his point-scoring tear for Seattle Sounders FC. Dempsey again contributed to the Seattle attack, setting up Chad Barrett for what proved to be the game-winning goal in the 2-0 win against Vancouver Whitecaps FC. In doing so, Dempsey extended his streak of recording at least a point to 10 games, which is the fourth-longest streak of its kind in MLS history and the longest since 1998. Dempsey has at least one point in 18 of Seattle’s last 19 games and is tied for the league-lead in goals (7) and assists (5).
In Mexico, Ventura Alvarado and Club America entered the second leg of the Liga MX quarterfinals trailing Pachuca, 3-2. Alvarado came on in the 59th minute of a match packed with excitement and drama that included seven goals, two red cards – both for Club America and the first leaving them a man short after 33 minutes – and last-minute strikes. Ultimately, Club America lost 4-3 at home and 7-5 on aggregate.
Michael Bradley, Chris Wondolowski and Juan Agudelo were a trio of other MNT players that made a mark last weekend, each scoring a goal. Agudelo was a difference maker for the New England Revolution scoring on a diving header to give his team the lead against Toronto FC. Michael Bradley, his MNT teammate, but opponent in this matchup, responded with a game-tying goal for Toronto. Bradley’s was an exhibition of individual dominance. The midfielder dribbled through a host of New England Revolution defenders and finished in the lower left corner of the goal. In San Jose, Chris Wondolowski directed in a header in his team’s 2-0 win over Columbus Crew SC. The goal was the 99th of his career, which ranks him ninth overall in MLS history.
With the seasons in Europe reaching their climax and MLS in full swing, there are Champions League and Europa League spots to be won, promotion to be earned, and streaks to be continued. Here's five MNT stories to follow this weekend.
- Fabian Johnson and Monchengladbach can guarantee at least third place in the Bundesliga and an automatic spot in next season’s Champions League with either a win away to Wolfsburg on Saturday or if Leverkusen fails to win against Hoffenheim. [FABIAN FEATURE ON USSOCCER.COM]
- Alfredo Morales and FC Ingolstadt can secure first place and promotion to the Bundesliga with a win against RB Leipzig on Saturday.
- Aron Johannsson and AZ Alkmaar are tied on points (59) with Feyenoord but behind on goal differential for third place with one game to go. The third-place finisher gets automatic entry into the Europa League; otherwise they go into a playoff. Alkmaar is away to 15th place Excelsior on Sunday.
- Ventura Alvarado and Club America go into the second leg of the Liga MX quarterfinal at home down 3-2 to Pachuca. Interestingly, in Mexico the tiebreaker in the series is a little different. If both the aggregate goals and away goals are equal, there is no extra time and penalties. Instead, the team with the most points during the regular season advances.
- Clint Dempsey goes into the Cascadia Cup match against Vancouver on fire, tied for the league lead with seven goals and adding four assists. He has at least one point in 17 of the last 18 games for Seattle.
Now just over two months out, the U.S. MNT players have their eyes set on making an impact for the USA in the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup. For now, their work is with their club teams, where last weekend a number of U.S. players made a difference.
Jozy Altidore, F, Toronto FC
Altidore collected his third and fourth goals of the season after notching a double in Toronto FC’s 2-0 win over Orlando City SC. In the 50th minute, Altidore quickly played a free kick from inside of the center circle to teammate Sebastain Giovinco, who in-turn touched it right back to Altidore. From there Altidore did the rest, zipping past the defense and ripping a shot that just tipped off Orlando City GK Donovan Ricketts’ hands and bounced in off the far post. In the 83rd minute, he got around the defense again. His second score came when he took down a long pass and fooled both a defender and the goalkeeper with a cut in the box that he followed with a left-footed finish.
Fabian Johnson, D, Borussia Mönchengladbach
Fabian Johnson played a key part in Borussia Mönchengladbach’s 1-0 win over VfL Wolfsburg. Johnson completed 29 of 34 passes one of which set up the game-winning goal. The win was huge for ‘Gladbach as it clinched at least a qualifying spot in the next edition of the UEFA Champions League.
Clint Dempsey, F, Seattle Sounders FC
Clint Dempsey led the Seattle Sounders to a victory over rival Portland Timbers by scoring the game-winning goal in the 77th minute of the match. In front of a crowd of 41,541 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, Dempsey tapped in a rebound from close range after Andy Rose’s initial shot was saved by the Portland GK Adam Kwarasey. The goal was Dempsey’s second through Kwarasey in the last year. He put one past him in just 30 seconds into the USA’s 2014 FIFA World Cup opener against Ghana last June.
Alejandro Bedoya, M, Nantes
Alejandro Bedoya headed home the game-tying goal for Nantes in its Ligue 1 road match versus Toulouse. With two minutes left in regulation, Nantes trailed by a goal and was given a corner kick. Bedoya made his move to the back post and buried a header to save a point for Nantes.
Aron Johannsson, F, AZ Alkmaar
Aron Johannsson tallied his sixth goal of the season for AZ, flicking in a cross with the outside of his left foot for a goal in the game’s 35th minute. AZ would go on to win 2-0 over FC Twente. The win was important for AZ as the team continues to work for a Europa League spot. Johannsson’s team now trails the third-place position by three points with two more matches to play this season.
Date of Birth
Nov 10, 1990
AZ Alkmaar (Netherlands)