DAVID SMITH - Thursday, August 4, 2016
After a seemingly endless injury lay-off, Werder Bremen and USMNT forward Aron Johannsson is inching closer to his return.
The Alabama-born striker has been sidelined with a long-term nagging hip irritation since late-September of last season, effectively putting the brakes on what had been a promising start with the Bundesliga team after only six games of competitive action.
His projected return, initially expected to be just a few weeks after the initial problem, has been delayed multiple times, putting doubts as to whether he would eventually be able to take the field again for Bremen or the United States.
After promising indications were given in the local media in recent weeks, both club and country received a huge boost on Thursday when both the player and Bremen confirmed that he has resumed training with the first team.
Werder left no doubts by posting an announcement on their official twitter account, initially stating that Johannsson, along with long-time injured midfielder Philipp Bargfrede were "partially" training with the first team, then followed up shortly thereafter with the confirmation - and a short video as proof - that both players were taking part in a training match.
Johannsson himself also expressed his excitement at being back with the first team on the social media platform, simply stating "It's been a long road! First team training today."
While it will surely take some time before he is ready to make an impact for either Werder or the United States after such a long absence, this is welcome news, in particular to fans of the German club, who saw the team narrowly avoid relegation last season.
Defense, rather than goalscoring, was indeed the major culprit behind their struggles; their 50 goals scored was tied for best amongst the non-European qualifiers (and overall sixth in the league), however their 65 allowed goals was second-worst in the Bundesliga.
With half of their goals being scored by either the ageless (yet still ageing) 37 year-old veteran Claudio Pizarro or the now-departed Anthony Ujah, the team will be dependent on finding goals from a collection of unproven youth players (Johannes Eggestein), lower-league pick-ups (Justin Eilers and Lennart Thy) or Bundesliga castaways (Max Kruse). Here, a fit-again Johannsson could provide support to a corps of forwards that will certainly be in flux.
Should he regain his previous form and overall upwards momentum on a high level, he will be an added luxury, on the short-term, to the US National Team squad, which appears to have momentarily settled on a solid striking trio of Clint Dempsey, Bobby Wood and Gyasi Zardes.
However, the depth behind these three as well as the advancing age of Dempsey are concerns heading into the 2018 World Cup and beyond, so a healthy Johannsson could, on the long-term, turn out to be a critically important piece for the team.
First, however, he will need to ease his way back into full training, and eventually into gametime action without any recurrences of the previous problems.
Werder still has two weeks before they have their first competitive fixture - a DFB Pokal visit to Sportfreunde Lotte - and three before running the gauntlet at FC Bayern for their Bundesliga opener. Johannsson will likely be on a patient schedule to avoid risks, but eyes on both sides of the Atlantic will be focused on the 25 year-old for any further signs of progress.