SAN FRANCISCO – Few generations in American soccer were more celebrated internally by US Soccer than the tantalizing group that made up the Olympic team two years ago.
That group was loaded with rising MLS talent – think striker Teal Bunbury, goalkeeper Sean Johnson or midfielder Brek Shea, among others – and newcomers in the ranks from abroad like bruising German-American striker Terrence Boyd and Mexican-American midfielder Joe Corona.
Fate, however, had other ideas. That team famously crashed out even before they could book their tickets to London, and a number of the players have since failed to find traction with the US national team.
In fact, only three players from that ill-fated team successfully transitioned to the USMNT’s 30-man camp ahead of the World Cup: Boyd, Corona and – to the delight of salivating fans awaiting the next great American midfielder – Mix Diskerud.
“Mix is coming from a group of guys that we had real trouble with getting to the next level,” US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann said after the team’s 2-0 win over Azerbaijan on Tuesday at Candlestick Park. “There were a few guys – very special players coming into that team – and for whatever reason it didn’t work out the way it should have worked out. And we lost a few of them on this path. They should actually be part of this group now …
“All these very, very talented kids, they fell in a hole,” he added. “A deep hole.”
But not Diskerud, the only member from the 2012 team with an ever-promising 2014, thanks in no small part to a goal Tuesday night that helped key the Americans to a win was tougher than expected.
The goal – a scrappy and opportunistic finish from inside a scrum in the 75th minute as he was being chopped down from behind – was Diskerud’s third goal in US colors. He scored an equally important late finish in a friendly against Russia in November 2012 before adding an assist to Landon Donovan in the team’s World Cup qualifying win over Mexico last September in Columbus, and his play Tuesday night could make him one of Klinsmann’s first options off the bench in Brazil.
“One of my goals in my life was to reach the Olympics, and another goal was to reach the World Cup, so now I’m a part of that,” Diskerud said. “I’m satisfied right now. You go through ups and downs, and right now is definitely an up.”
Diskerud was the last of six subs off the bench for the US against an Azerbaijan team that bent but didn’t break until the late going. He entered the fray for Alejandro Bedoya in the 71st minute and found himself in the right place at the right time just minutes later, after Michael Bradley cracked a shot that was saved off the line by defender Elvin Yunuszade.
“You see there’s room and there are runs being made,” Diskerud said, “so when you get in you want to be able to do something about it.”
A native of Oslo, as a child Diskerud idolized Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the Norwegian striker and current Cardiff City manager who made his career with Manchester United between 1996-2007, often times coming off the bench when his club needed a lift.
“A role like that,” Diskerud said, “is fun to do.”
Said Bradley: “He has a soccer brain. He’s able to find space and different spots, he can slip little balls and pop up in the right spot. He did that tonight, but tonight’s not the first time he’s done that.”
It didn’t go unnoticed that Diskerud wore the iconic No. 10 jersey adorned in previous World Cups by US icons Tab Ramos, Claudio Reyna and Donovan. Klinsmann said Tuesday that Diskerud landed the jersey simply because “there weren’t many numbers left,” and US Soccer has yet to officially announce if Diskerud will wear the jersey next month in Brazil.
“It’s an honor for me,” Diskerud said. “If you look back at all the players who’ve been wearing No. 10 – Tab Ramos, Claudio Reyna and Landon Donovan – so for me, I’m just sort of borrowing it. I’m for sure going to play with Landon again, so he’ll get it back then.
“No. 10 is just a number,” he added, “but I understand that a lot of people see it as more than that.”