SAN FRANCISCO – The US national team’s first step on the road to Brazil nearly turned into something of a sobering stumble on Tuesday night, until Mix Diskerud, the Americans’ new No. 10 on the night, helped save the day.
Five minutes after coming on as one of three offensive-minded substitutions in the second half, the Norwegian-born playmaker broke open an otherwise sloppy game with a right-footed finish inside the box to help lead the US to a 2-0 win over Azerbaijan in front of 24,688 chilly fans at Candlestick Park.
Fellow second-half sub Aron Johannsson followed with a goal on a wide-open header off a corner kick form Brad Davis in the 81st minute to seal a win in the first and easiest of three international friendlies before the team heads to the World Cup next month.
Diskerud’s finish came after a US free kick dissolved into a tantalizing scrum inside the Azerbaijan box and midfielder Michael Bradley had his shot cleared off the line by defender Elvin Yunuszade. Diskerud – who for the game donned the iconic No. 10 jersey worn by Landon Donovan since 2007 before he was cut from Jurgen Klinsmann’s 23-man roster last week – promptly buried the rebound, his third goal in US colors. US Soccer has not formerly announced who will wear No. 10 on a permanent basis.
Johannsson’s insurance goal was far less complicated. He drifted into the box unmarked and thumped in a header for his second career US goal, and gave Davis his fourth career US assist.
The win was the first in five tries for the US in their first World Cup warm-up game (1-2-1). They’ll play Turkey on June 1 at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., before finishing their sendoff tour against Nigeria on June 7 in Jacksonville, Fla.
Klinsmann trotted out a lineup that wasn’t wholly unexpected following the team’s two-week camp at nearby Stanford University. Only a few positions in the starting lineup were truly up for grabs ahead of the match and aside from Chris Wondolowski starting up top following a last-second precautionary injury scratch for captain Clint Dempsey (groin strain), the group appeared to be a first-choice collection for Klinsmann.
Geoff Cameron paired with Matt Besler in central defense, flanked by right back Fabian Johnson and left back DaMarcus Beasley. Jermaine Jones played behind Bradley in the diamond formation’s central midfield, while Alejandro Bedoya lined up on the right wing andGraham Zusi on the left.
Wondolowski paired with Jozy Altidore up top, while goalkeeper Tim Howard wore the captain’s armband in place of Dempsey.
Chances for either team were few and far between during a choppy first half, but the hometown hero Wondolowski was the most active player for the Americans before the break. He wasted little time getting in the mix, but his wide-open header off a Zusi free kick from the right flank was steered aside by Azerbaijan goalkeeper Kamran Aghayev in the fourth minute.
He had another point-blank header off a cross from Bedoya parried over the bar in the 15th minute, and he laced a shot off the side netting from a tough angle after Bradley’s shot deflected off Azerbaijan defender in the 32nd minute.
Bedoya was also particularly pesky in the first 45 minutes, swapping from left wing to right and handcuffing Aghayev with a knuckling shot in the 37th minute before the rebound was cleared. Bedoya was also shook up in a jarring collision near midfield with Azerbaijan’s Rasim Ramaldanov in 30th minute, the only injury scare of the night for Klinsmann’s group outside of the Dempsey scratch.
Klinsmann swapped three players out at the break: Omar Gonzalez in for Cameron, Timmy Chandler for Beasley and Brad Davis for Zusi.
Davis figured directly into the US’ best early chance of the second half off nifty a give and go with Johnson on the right side, but Bradley skied the ensuing shot over the bar from just outside the box.
Altidore’s only real chance of the night followed in the 63rd minute when he took a pass from Bradley at the top of the box and pivoted around an Azerbaijan defender, but he too booted his shot into the stands.
Then came Klinsmann’s decisive subs, with Johannsson replacing Wondolowski and Diskerud replacing Bedoya. DeAndre Yedlin also came on for Johnson in the 62nd minute, earning his third cap with the US.
Azerbaijan’s chances on the night were few, but they threatened in the seventh minute off a costly giveaway by Besler before Howard parried away Vagif Javadov’s shot near the top of the box.
Mahir Shukurov also glanced a free kick just wide of the post in the 15th minute.
The only three US field players not to see action on Tuesday were German-American teenage winger Julian Green, fellow youngster and center back John Anthony Brooks, and Real Salt Lake midfielder Kyle Beckerman.
Klinsmann told ESPN during a halftime interview that he expects Dempsey to recover from the groin strain in the next two to three days.
MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match
What We Saw
The winger provided plenty of pace and created a number of chances
US' new No. 10, at least for the night, was instant offense off the bench, which will likely be his role in Brazil
While his CB partner struggled at times, Cameron was solid and settled in as the match went on