Mix Diskerud - New York City FC

Normally, one would expect a soccer player stuck between an expired loan spell and a talent-laden parent club for whom he's never expected to suit up to be laser-focused on determining where he'll lace up his boots next.

Of course, this is not a normal time, and it's fair to say that Mix Diskerud is not your typical soccer player. There are offers and interest to weigh regarding the next step in his career, but for now the former NYCFC and US men's national team player is much more concerned with the COVID-19 pandemic affecting lives around the globe. 

"I do miss the sport, and as the Pope once said: 'Amongst all unimportant subjects, football is by far the most important'," Diskerud told MLSsoccer.com from Norway. "I do agree completely, but it is unimportant now, sadly." 

This sort of attitude will come as no surprise to anyone who knows him or has followed his social media accounts. Diskerud has always candidly worn a big heart on his sleeve, with an natural willingness to think about life beyond the scope of how it directly affects him.

He has also consistently demonstrated he holds many interest outside of soccer, and the game is not just a beloved activity or handsome paycheck. When you take a full view of his personality, it becomes easy to see how he landed in South Korea for that aforementioned loan stint.

"For me, football at large is about creating memories, developing as a person and as a player, and striving to win, in that order," said Diskerud. "All those boxes were ready to be checked off for me when I chose to move to the far east and play for Ulsan Hyundai."

He joined the club on from English giants Manchester City (who will almost surely never dress him for a competitive match) in July of 2018. The Tigers saw Diskerud as the final puzzle piece needed to end a 14-year K League 1 title drought, and he delivered precisely the type of midfield play they expected en route to becoming a fan favorite.

That's not to say there weren't new ways to come to terms with, both on and off the field. For instance, the clubhouse music that is an ever-present in America and Europe is generally not allowed in South Korea.  

"I managed after a while to become the DJ on game day, but the combination of gym sessions and music was still a no go," Diskerud revealed. "My arguments [in that regard] didn't carry that far."

He was also originally taken aback by the fact Ulsan Hyundai always gathered the squad to stay at a hotel the night before matches, but ended up seeing the benefits. "That felt unnecessary for a free spirit like me, but I soon learned that it was not just about the club watching over us 24/7 leading up to the game," said Diskerud. "It was more about an extreme ambition about creating camaraderie and relations with our own teammates. 

"After playing in the K-League, I would say there are many other aspects of how they approach the game of football that we Westerners could learn from, and vice versa."

During his 18 months in Ulsan, Diskerud scored 11 times in 62 total appearances. Among those was the first goal ever scored by an American in the AFC Champions League, an inventive backheel that stood up as a 1-0 winner against Sydney FC that clinched their place in the knockouts.

All in all, Diskerud's Ulsan Hyundai adventure was a very nourishing experience — and not just because of the famous Korean barbecue he fell in love with. The club did not achieve that championship dream, falling agonizingly short on goal differential after suffering a closing day loss he missed due to a yellow card suspension.   

Even without the desired silverware to complete his stay, Diskerud earnestly loved filling up the memory bank with scores of happy episodes. "Looking back, I have to admit, the friendships that developed while living in, and adapting to, a new culture is what I look back on with joy and pride," he said.

It makes it even sweeter that the feeling was quite mutual, and he said he'll definitely return to South Korea for visits, if not even as a player making a comeback or in some official off-field capacity for Ulsan Hyundai.   

"I get messages on social media quite often from South Koreans, asking me to come back," shared Diskerud. "That definitely puts a smile on my face, and shows that they appreciated me as much as I appreciated them."

Ulsan and the K League are not the only entities that Diskerud could see himself returning to one day. He'll be the first to admit the two MLS seasons he spent with New York City FC didn't go quite like he'd hoped.

"I feel like I've got some unfinished business there [in MLS]," he stated. "Whether it comes to me playing in the States in the future, I do not know. I've enjoyed traveling the world, and maybe I might keep trying new continents. South America would be pretty interesting, no?"

Wherever he may wander, Diskerud always makes an effort to keep up with the latest on how NYCFC is doing. "I was once part of that family, and still kind of feel like it," he said. "So, absolutely, I do keep tabs on them."

The same can be said about the US men's national team, for whom he has not played for in over four years. Diskerud won't divulge whether or not Gregg Berhalter's staff has been in contact with him since the new boss took over in December 2018, but said he'd jump at any chance to pull on the red, white and blue again.

"I would offer every limb in my body for the US national team," he declared. "The USMNT concerns and excites me a whole deal. I have been, and am, one of their biggest fans."

When it comes right down to it, Diskerud is open to any soccer experience one can dream up. But there will be time for that later. Until it's safe for him to take aim at 'keepers, he'll concentrate on the goal of being a positive citizen of the world during a scary, stressful time.   

"If I have a voice, my message would be to be aware, cautious, loving and helpful," offered Diskerud.