Americans Abroad Preview: Johannsson's AZ eyes first place

Aron Johannsson's AZ Alkmaar currently sits in a tie for first place in the Dutch League, and the U.S. striker will look to keep his squad rolling against struggling ADO Den Haag
When AZ Alkmaar sold star playmaker Adam Maher and leading scorer Jozy Altidore this summer, the ‘Cheese Farmers’ figured to endure a rebuilding campaign. And when Gertjan Verbeek inexplicably stepped down as head coach early in the season, AZ looked like a team in turmoil.

A smooth transition to new coach Dick Advocaat, coupled with U.S. national team forward Aron Johannsson picking up the goalscoring slack left by Altidore’s departure has helped AZ climb up the standings and the club heads into the weekend with a chance to maintain its place near the top of the Eredivisie.

Currently tied for first place with FC Twente and Ajax (but in third place via goal difference), AZ takes on ADO Den Haag on Saturday, a matchup Johannsson will be looking forward to. ADO Den Haag is off to a terrible start, currently sitting in 16th place in the Dutch League, having allowed 25 goals in 10 matches. Johannsson, the third-leading scorer in the Dutch League with seven goals, should find plenty of chances.

In England, Tim Howard will look to follow up his stellar showing against Aston Villa with another strong effort against a team with an American goalkeeper. The Toffees take on Tottenham in a key battle between two teams in the English Premier League’s top six. No, Brad Friedel won’t be starting (he did make some key penalty saves on Tottenham’s mid-week Capitalo One Cup victory), but Howard and Everton will be looking to put a few past Spurs starter Hugo Lloris to move ahead of Tottenham in the EPL standings.

This weekend will also offer a reunion for Jozy Altidore, who takes on Hull City for the first time since playing for the Tigers on loan in 2011. Altidore is coming off his best match since joining Sunderland, and should be back in the starting lineup for an important match for the Black Cats as they look to climb out of the relegation zone under new head coach Gus Poyet.

In Germany, Timmy Chandler will look to continue his good play under new Nuremberg coach Gertjan Verbeek on Saturday against SC Freiburg.

Steve Cherundolo’s recent injury setback was a disappointing turn for American fans still hoping he works his way back into the U.S. national team mix, but this weekend in the Bundesliga could see the return of John Brooks from the elbow injury that has kept him sidelined for the past month.

Brooks could return to the Hertha Berlin starting lineup on Jermaine Jones and Schalke 04. Fabian Johnson has yet to recover from the ankle injury that kept him out most of October, but if he does come back this weekend, he’ll be facing a brutal test as Hoffenheim takes on Bayern Munich.

In Belgium, Sacha Kljestan is enjoying a career year, having already matched his personal best for goals in the season (six). He will look to keep his recent hot streak going when Anderlecht faces OH Leuven on Saturday.

In France, Alejandro Bedoya will look to regain his starting place for Nantes, which will look to maintain fourth place in Ligue 1 with a win against Montpellier on Sunday. Bedoya has not started since returning from international duty with the USA, but he has scored in both matches he has played since then, most recently in Tuesday’s French Cup win against Lorient.

In Mexico, Club Tijuana’s disappointing Apertura season winds closer to conclusion on Friday night against Atlante. The Xolos have floated out of the playoff picture and the only real question at this point is how much longer Jorge Almiron will have as manager. He started Paul Arriola and Joe Corona together in midfield the last time out, and could give Herculez Gomez a starting turn to help an attack that has been held scoreless for two straight matches.