By Mike Woitalla
"I didn’t choose it. They handed them out," says 23-year-old Mix Diskerud when asked about the honor of getting the No. 10 jersey for the USA as it heads to the World Cup in Brazil.
The No. 10, of course, represents the playmaker -- usually the most important player on the team. The number worn in bygone years by Pele, Diego Maradona, Michel Platini. Today, by Lionel Messi.
For the USA, in the most recent World Cups, the No. 10 was worn by Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna and Tab Ramos. It became available last week when Jurgen Klinsmann cut Donovan.
“It’s an honor,” Diskerud told ESPN after his first game in the No. 10 jersey. “A lot of great players have been wearing the No. 10 for the U.S. previously. I’ll enjoy it. When it comes to Landon -- I’m sure that we’re going to be playing together again some day -- I’m just borrowing it right now.”
One can comprehend why Diskerud thinks about playing with Donovan. Diskerud came on as a sub last September against Mexico. He received a ball and elegantly chipped the ball to himself, took one more touch, and then delivered a pass across the goalmouth that Donovan finished for the second goal in a 2-0 win that clinched World Cup qualification.
Even if Diskerud ended up with the No. 10 because Donovan got cut and Clint Dempsey and Michael Bradley were already wearing their favorite numbers -- there is definitely a playmaking quality to Diskerud.
He demonstrated that in his debut for the USA in a friendly against South Africa in a 2010 friendly, at age 20, when he adeptly received the ball in a crowd and delivered it to Juan Agudelo for the gamewinner. And during the USA’s run to the 2013 Gold Cup. And last Tuesday against Azerbaijan when he came off the bench and scored the first goal of a 2-0 win in a game that had until that point had been a tepid display by the U.S. squad against the world’s No. 85th ranked team.
After his debut in 2010, Diskerud played only one game for the USA in 2011 and only one game in 2012 before making 13 appearances in 2013.
But he had been playing for the U.S. U-23 squad that infamously failed to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. He is the only member of that team to rebound and earn a spot on this World Cup squad.
“We were good collectively together,” Diskerud said. “I thought we were definitely going to make it to the Olympics but we didn’t. I did get to play with the U.S. national team with some of those players – Joe Corona, Brek Shea, Terrence Boyd, Juan Agudelo, those guys.
“We tried to push each other and help each other to reach further with the men’s national team. It’s fun that some of us got that opportunity.
“You grow a lot from experiences like that. That was the goal of my life, to reach the Olympics. Another goal was to go to a World Cup, and I’m doing that right now, so I’m satisfied. You go through ups and downs and right now it’s definitely an up.”
Diskerud was born and raised in Norway. But his mother is an American who hails from Arizona. During a youth tournament, then U-20 coach Thomas Rongen asked Diskerud, while he was taking a corner kick for Norway, if he had an American passport. The kid whose full name is Mikkel Morgenstar Palssonn Diskerud said “yes” before sending the ball into play.
“I’m half American, half Norwegian,” said Diskerud, who spent his summers as a child visiting the USA. “My mom’s American and my father’s Norwegian, but he was proud when I began playing for the U.S. national team.”
“The U.S. is also red, white and blue, like Norway,” he added with a smile.
Diskerud debuted for Norwegian club Stabaek in 2009 and saw action in a UEFA Champions League game at age 18. He became a regular first-team starter with Stabaek in 2010 and after a loan stint with Belgium’s Gent in 2012 moved to back to Norway’s Rosenborg.
The No. 10 landed on his back because of some twists of fate. But that goal in San Francisco, and those assists in his debut and in the win against Mexico, hint that he could do some playmaking in Brazil.