DAVID SMITH - Friday, August 2, 2013
Aron Johansson has a huge pair of shoes to fill for AZ when they kick off their season at Heerenveen while Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond begin the new season with high hopes of promotion.

SC Heerenveen - AZ Alkmaar

Just days after committing his national team future to the US national team, Aron Johansson should be the focal point of AZ Alkmaar's attack when they open their season on Saturday at Heerenveen.

The Alabama-born Johansson nearly caused a simultaneous eruption of all 30-plus volcanic systems on the tiny Atlantic island nation of Iceland when he began the process to join Jürgen Klinsmann's band of merry men on Monday.

His decision assured that, for a third straight season, AZ's attack will be led by a likely participant on the US 2014 World Cup team.

After struggling for much of the previous season, AZ will not have an easy go of it in the new term, having lost two of their most important players in summer transfers.

Jozy Altidore's transfer to English team Sunderland coupled with Adam Maher's departure to PSV Eindhoven will leave the team with the need to find a new focus going forward.

They are not without reinforcements, however, with Dutch U21 defender Jeffrey Gouweleeuw sure to solidify the back line, and Serbian youngster Nemanja Gudelj expected to play a large role in the midfield.

Heerenveen also had a largely disappointing 2012-13 season, finishing just eighth place and missing out on European competition.

Barring any sudden transfers in the next two days, they will be led by striker Alfred Finnbogason, one of the Icelandic players who will no longer have to battle Johansson for a national team spot.

For Heerenveen, defender Pele van Anholt is questionable with a thigh problem, fellow defender Jukka Raitala is out with an ankle injury, and midfielder Joey van den Berg will have to sit thanks to a card suspension carried over from the previous season.

AZ is not reporting any absences from their squad.

Excelsior Rotterdam - Helmond Sport

Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond will once again begin the new Jupiler League season with high hopes of promotion when they visit Excelsior Rotterdam on Friday evening.

Helmond entered the promotion playoffs last season on shaky ground, and were unable to gain any momentum in their two-and-out performance against Sparta Rotterdam.

They should be able to begin the new season on a good note, taking on one of the teams that was likely spared relegation due to a pair of untimely bankruptcies.

Helmond will have a tough time to make up the 18 league goals of departed striker Emrullah Güvenç, but picked up two valuable attacking options in Marc Koot and Serhat Koc.

Helmond are not reporting any absences while Excelsior are without injured players Marley Berkvens, Jurgen Mattheij, Richard Stolte and Daan Smith.

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