Three years after joining Werder Bremen, US international Aron Johannsson might finally have arrived. The 27-year-old has been in blistering form recently and could prove the difference in Werder's fight for survival.
In a snowy, tricky away game against Gladbach on Friday, Johannsson came off the bench to complete Werder Bremen's comeback by scoring their second goal. The fierce shot that flew in off the crossbar was his first Bundesliga goal since September 2016 - and it felt like he knew it.
Since joining Werder in August 2015, Johannsson has only amassed 24 Bundesliga appearances. A hip injury cost him his first year. A lack of coaching favor and further injury cost him his second. Now, at the end of his third, Johannsson is playing like the prolific American talent Werder Bremen bought from Dutch side AZ Alkmaar all those years ago.
A month ago in, a 34-minute cameo against Schalke, Johannsson's revival began as he helped spark a comeback win. His deliciously-timed lob was finished off by Max Kruse. Three days later he scored and helped Werder take a 2-0 lead in the quarterfinals of the German Cup against Bayer Leverkusen. It was his first start of the season and so coming off at halftime was not a surprise. Nevertheless, Werder went on to lose 4-2 in extra time.
After a solid display in a home win against Wolfsburg, Johannsson's impressive comeback hit a hurdle as he gave away the penalty that won Freiburg the game. The 27-year-old has spent the last three years overcoming setbacks. One defeat certainly wasn't going to stop him.
Trust but not tense
Soon after, he came off the bench with six minutes to go in a "six-pointer" against Hamburg and forced the winner - HSV defender Rick van Drongelen could only turn into his own net in his attempt to clear Johannsson's effort. Three points in the northern derby - and Johannsson was the unsung hero.
The arrival of Florian Kohfeldt as head coach has played a huge role in Johannsson's return to form. It's clear that Kohfeldt trusts Johannsson more than previous head coach Alexander Nouri. Kohfeldt seems to have created an environment where Johannsson - and many other Werder players - have rebuilt confidence and fitness.
"He is never tense," Kohfeldt said of Johannsson, and watching him play it's evident that being calm is part of the reason he reads the game well. He's also versatile.
At one point during this season's return to form, Johannsson joked he would even play in goal if it meant he could get back on the pitch. Beyond the quip though lies a truth. With Max Kruse the spearhead of Bremen's attack, Johannsson's ability to become the attacking, dynamic right winger that Werder Bremen need at the moment is further testament to his quality.
That goal against Gladbach was the exclamation mark on his comeback but, judging by Johannsson's words afterwards, it seems he feels it was more of a comma: "I needed to score two goals here," the striker said afterwards.
There's likely more to come from the 27-year-old in the remaining nine games - enough to make good on his desire to return to the US national team. Even though Johannsson hasn't featured for his country since 2015, the striker is hitting form at exactly the right time to be considered for selection. If only the US had qualified for the tournament in Russia this summer.
The grit he has shown in returning to form says a lot about the man born to Icelandic parents. A set of injuries, out of favor, nearly out the door and yet the forward looks set to play a key role in keeping one of Germany's proudest clubs in the Bundesliga. Not bad for the man both club and country seemed to have forgotten.