Subs lead U.S. over Azerbaijan in World Cup tuneup
Mix Diskerud figures the whole honor of wearing No. 10 is only temporary. He fully expects to play alongside Landon Donovan again down the road with the U.S. national team.
For one night at least, Diskerud did that jersey proud.
Diskerud and Aron Johannsson, a pair of second-half substitutes raised in Scandinavia, scored to lift a heavy-legged United States over Azerbaijan 2-0 on Tuesday night in the first of three World Cup warmups for the Americans.
"It's an honor. A lot of great players have been wearing that No. 10 for the U.S. previously," Diskerud said. "I'll enjoy it. When it comes to Landon, I'm sure that we're going to be playing together again someday, and of course he has more caps than me so I'm just borrowing the uniform right now."
The U.S. needed a boost from the bench after captain Clint Dempsey was scratched just before kickoff because of a sore left groin. But the 14th-ranked Americans had trouble breaking down No. 85 Azerbaijan.
Diskerud, born in Oslo to a father from Norway and mother from Arizona who met in college, entered in the 71st and scored four minutes later off Brad Davis' free kick.
With the ball high in the box, Diskerud headed it down to Michael Bradley, whose shot was cleared off the goal line by Elvin Yunuszade. Diskerud then banged the ball in with a right-footed shot 6 yards for his third international goal.
"It deflected, and then it was just an easy job for me to score," Diskerud said. "I got tackled exactly when I was going to shoot, and I was just laying down on the ground in agony."
He was wearing the No. 10 freed up when Donovan was cut from the roster last Thursday.
Johannsson, who was born in Mobile, Alabama, and moved to Iceland with his family when he was 3, entered in the 62nd and scored his second American goal in the 81st with an open header from the top of the 6-yard box off a corner kick by Davis, who replaced Graham Zusi at the start of the second half.
"I think we can be very happy with this game," Johannsson said. "We've been working ridiculously hard in training."
Tim Howard, making his 98th international appearance, got his 53rd win to tie Kasey Keller's U.S. record. The Americans began their intense two-week training camp May 14 at nearby Stanford University, and there appeared to be tired legs.
"It was exactly what we need at this point of our preparation after two fully loaded weeks," U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. "It was a tricky game. You want to open it up with a goal, and it gets easier. You want to score a bit earlier.
Next up is a match Sunday against Turkey at Harrison, New Jersey, followed by a game with Nigeria six days later in Jacksonville, Florida. Then the Americans head to Brazil for their seventh straight World Cup appearance and first-round matches against Ghana, Portugal and Germany.
"It's good to finally get going. Now we can play hard, recover, travel and go again," Howard said. "I thought it was good. I thought tonight was what we probably expected."
The Americans arrived in a red-white-and-blue bus sporting the team's slogan: "One Nation. One Team."
The focus was on Klinsmann, who made the controversial decision to cut Donovan, the American career scoring leader. Dempsey, slated to start up top with Jozy Altidore in a 4-4-2, was an unexpected absence.
"We don't want to risk here anything," said Klinsmann, who estimated Dempsey would heal in two-to-three days. "It's not serious at all."
Chris Wondolowski, a local fan favorite of the San Jose Earthquakes inserted in place of Dempsey, was stopped twice early by goalkeeper Kamran Aghayev, the first with a knee on a diving header in the fifth minute. Wondolowski's header off a cross from Alejandro Bedoya in the 15th was parried over the bar.
"You have to be ready at a moment's notice," Wondolowski said. "That's why I was a bit disappointed not to find the back of the net. I had a couple of great opportunities that I need to find the corner and hit the back of the net."
Azerbaijan, coached by U.S. team adviser Berti Vogts, was outscored 5-0 in a pair of World Cup qualifiers by Portugal.
With wind whipping the corner flags early and even the ball out of place during restarts, a new-look U.S. defense was hardly tested.
Fabian Johnson started at right back, with Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron as the central defenders, picked over Omar Gonzalez, who replaced Cameron in the second half. DaMarcus Beasley, looking to become the first American to appear in four World Cups, was at left back.
Besler and Cameron played together in the middle once previously, against Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier last October. For the first time since 1990, the Americans have no central defenders with previous World Cup experience.
Johnson started three games at left back last year but just once on the right — in the clinching World Cup qualifier against Mexico in September.
Klinsmann used a midfield diamond for the second straight game, with Michael Bradley at the top, Jermaine Jones deep, Zusi on the right and Bedoya the left.
This match became the true final football game at Candlestick, former home of the NFL San Francisco 49ers through last season and baseball's San Francisco Giants until after 1999.
NOTES: A foul by Azerbaijan D Evlin Yunuszade on Davis early in the second half appeared to be inside the box but was called a free kick by Costa Rican referee Henry Bejarano. ... Timmy Chandler played left back in the second half for his first appearance with the U.S. since a World Cup qualifier at Honduras in February 2013. ... Donovan was named MLS Player of the Week for his two-goal performance with an assist for the LA Galaxy in Sunday's 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Union. ... Injured American MF Stuart Holden attended the game ... A Nike ball was used rather than the Adidas World Cup model.