[USA-AZERBAIJAN] No one has ever suggested that the player who beat out Landon Donovanfor a World Cup roster spot was Mix Diskerud, but he did take the No. 10 jersey that Donovan wore at the 2010 World Cup. And the Norwegian-born midfielder was the unlikely hero for the USA Tuesday night in a match seemingly destined for a disappointing conclusion. Diskerud and Aron Johannsson scored in the last quarter of the hour to give the USA a 2-0 win over Azerbaijan in its first World Cup warmup at windy Candlestick Park in San Francisco.
June 1 --USA vs. Turkey in Harrison, N.J., 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2, WatchESPN, Univision)
June 7 --USA vs. Nigeria in Jacksonville, Fla., 6 p.m. ET (ESPN2, WatchESPN, UniMas)
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER? Jurgen Klinsmann employed the diamond midfield in the 2-2 tie with Mexico in April, and the tactics remained the same against Azerbaijan despite the introduction of a new set of players -- with the arrival of seven starters from abroad. Perhaps the 12 days of training had taken their toll, but the USA was certainly sharper in the first half against Mexico than it was against Azerbaijan, coming off a 1-0 win over the mighty Philippines in its only other game in 2014.
Graham Zusi and Alejandro Bedoya, the outside midfielders, were pushed inside, allowing Fabian Johnson, in particular, lots of room to get forward. But except for two open headers by Chris Wondolowski, the USA did not create much for its edge in possession in the first half.
Wondo started because Clint Dempsey was a late scratch with tightness in his groin that had begun to bother him on Monday, and the absence of the U.S. captain was significant as the USA badly missed his ability to dart in and out of the attack and work with Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley. (Klinsmann said after a day or two of rest, Dempsey should be ready for Sunday's game against Turkey.)
At the bottom of the diamond as Jermaine Jones, who rarely ventured out the center circle as if to prove to Klinsmann he has the discipline to cover for Bradley.
THOSE 50-50 BATTLES.Three players came on to start the second half -- Timmy Chandler for DaMarcus Beasley, Omar Gonzalez for Geoff Cameron and Brad Davis for Zusi. All three moves were at positions that remain up in the air.
As expected, Johnson is now the starter on the right, so Chandler's only chance is on the left, and he could be in line to overtake the veteran Beasley. Klinsmann said Gonzalez came into camp behind everyone else because of his knee injury, and the U.S. coach will likely wait as long as possible to decide who to pair with Matt Besler in the middle.
Just who will play on the left side if not Johnson, a starter there for much of the Hexagonal, or Donovan, Eddie Johnson or Herculez Gomez, none of whom is in Klinsmann's picture, has been a lingering question, and that didn't change after the Azerbaijan match. Neither Bedoya or Zusi exactly lit it up. Davis as the starter at left mid at the World Cup still baffles many folks, though he did show to the surprise of no one that he can put in a wicked left-footed corner kick on Johannsson's goal.
THE LOST GENERATION.Afterward, Klinsmann praised Diskerud for overcoming the disappointment of not going to the Olympics two years ago. Klinsmann has on several occasions now said how much of a setback it was for a generation he was counting on to rise to the senior national team.
He credited Diskerud (and Terrence Boyd and Joe Corona) for returning to their foreign clubs and overcoming that bitter disappointment of missing out on the London Olympics. Klinsmann was also quick to point that others -- players like Brek Shea, Teal Bunbury, Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson -- fell into a deep hole when they returned to their MLS clubs and could not get out.
Diskerud was still not even part of the U.S. picture a year ago for the critical June qualifiers that set the USA on the path to Brazil, but he has clearly emerged as a Klinsmann favorite. He has mostly been used in Bradley's position the middle, but his chances of playing there in the World Cup are slim and none. The right side of midfield might be his ticket to a starting spot.
SO LONG TO THE 'STICK.Klinsmann bemoaned the conditions that made first touches and long passes difficult at Candlestick, the former Giants and 49ers stadium that will be demolished some time in the next year. But that just exacerbated what are well-known flaws in the games of the national team and its players and begged the question, why play at the 'Stick in the first place?
Klinsmann obviously does not know his baseball lore. Otherwise, he might not have picked the 'Stick to open the send-off series.
Few will shed any tears for the stadium by the bay at which pitcher Stu Miller famously was blown off the mound by the wind at the 1961 All-Star Game.
May 27 in San Francisco
USA 2 Azerbaijan 0. Goals: Diskerud 75, Johannsson 81.
USA --Howard; Johnson (Yedlin 62), Besler, Cameron (Gonzalez 46), Beasley (Chandler 46); Jones, Bedoya (Diskerud 71), Zusi (Davis 46), Bradley; Wondolowski (Johannsson 62), Altidore.
Azerbaijan --K.Aghayev, Ramaldanov, Shukurov (Girtimov 46), Budak, Yunuszade, Garayev, Abishov (Guseynov 46), Abasiyev (Medvedev 71), Javadov (Nazarov 60), Dadashov (Fardjad-Azad 66), R.Aliyev.