DAVID SMITH - Monday, August 5, 2013
A goal and assist from Aron Johannsson were not enough to keep AZ from starting off with loss to Heerenveen while Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond earned a point on the road at Excelsior Rotterdam.
SC Heerenveen 4 - 2 AZ Alkmaar
Icelandic firepower was on full display in Heerenveen on Saturday, with Alfred Finnbogason having a hand in all four goals for the hosts and Aron Johannsson accounting for a goal and assist in a losing effort for AZ Alkmaar.
As fate would have it, just days after declaring his intent to forgo his national team hopes with Iceland and stake his future to the United States, Johannsson found himself going head-to-head with Finnbogason, one of the players previously ahead of him in the depth chart.
The significance of this decision and the Icelandic FA's subsequent eruption on either player is up for debate, however the two either scored or directly set up each of their respective team's scores in this six-goal thriller.
Heerenveen came out firing, and had their chance for an opener handed to them on a silver platter after 24 minutes when Jan Wuytens blatantly handled the ball in the area, with Finnbogason easily putting his team ahead from the spot.
AZ pulled even five minutes after the break thanks to Johannsson and Swedish teammate Mattias Johansson. The Swede stormed forward from near the midfield stripe, and upon entering the box, laid it off to his American teammate. Johannsson flipped the ball back to the Swedish youth international with a single touch, who made easy work of his five-yard volley.
Heerenveen responded quickly and lethally, as Finnbogason was in perfect position to clean up an initially blocked shot from Pele van Anholt in the 54th minute for 2-1, then slipped through the defense along the endline two minutes later to set up van Anholt for an emphatic finish from eight yards out for the two-goal lead.
AZ were handed a lifeline with 19 minutes remaining when Mitchell Dijks was shown a straight red, however failed to take advantage until their hosts did them a favor in the final moments of regulation.
After Heerenveen substitute Rajiv Van La Parra raised his arm to meet the ball on a corner kick to force the penalty call in the 88th minute, Johannsson stepped up to the spot with the chance to pull one back for the visitors.
His low penalty shot bounced off the left upright and rolled behind the diving keeper, before taking another deflection off the opposite post and finally crossing the line for the goal.
Any hopes AZ had for completing a comeback were unfortunately squashed seconds later, as van la Parra atoned for his earlier mistake, settling a pass from Finnbogason just outside the box and looping a perfect shot just inside the right post to secure the 4-2 win.
Things will not get any easier for AZ, as they must face reigning champions Ajax in their home opener on Sunday.
Excelsior Rotterdam 2 - 2 Helmond Sport
Charles Kazlauskas went the distance in midfield for Helmond Sport on Friday evening, as they began the new season with a draw at Excelsior Rotterdam.
Lars Hutten opened the scoring for the hosts after 32 minutes with a shot from 18 yards, however Helmond pulled even one minute later when Serhat Koc evaded the defense and buried a shot to the far corner.
Helmond went into the halftime break with the lead, Dave Nieskens doing the honors when he headed in a free kick from Kevin Fisher.
The team would, however fall short of the win, after Jeff Stans brought the score to 2-2 with a long shot following a poorly cleared corner.
Helmond returns to action on Saturday afternoon when they host FC Eindhoven in their first game of the season in front of the home crowd.