SAN FRANCISCO – For the first time in 2014, the US men’s national team got things done off the bench.
After a stop-start 75 minutes for the US attack on Tuesday night against Azerbaijan, midfielder Mix Diskerud – who had entered the game four minutes earlier – finally slammed home the opening goal off a set piece scramble.
It was the first goal scored by a US substitute since Aron Johannsson netted a late, late winner in their final World Cup qualifier on Oct. 15, 2013, and the second second-half goal in the same six-game time period. Johannssson repeated the trick six minutes after Diskerud’s goal, heading home unmarked from a corner kick to seal the Americans' 2-0 win in the opening game of their World Cup Send-Off Series.
“Obviously everybody wants to play and the players who weren’t in the starting XI were eager to come onto the pitch and make a difference,” Johannsson told MLSsoccer.com after the game, “and today, it was me and Mix who scored the goals and made a lot of difference when we came on. Everybody wants to do it, but I think all the players that came on, they did their part and that’s why we won today.”
The goal was an especially satisfying one for Diskerud, who has been one of the few young US players to bounce back from the disappointment of missing out on the 2012 Olympics to contend for a place in the World Cup squad, and the only one of the group to actually make the final 23-man roster.
It was the third goal in a USMNT shirt for the Norwegian-born attacking midfielder, and second off the bench after opening his account with a stoppage-time equalizer in a friendly against Russia in 2012. He also came off the bench to set up a 78th-minute goal for Landon Donovan in the USA’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying win over Mexico.
"Often times, you find guys who piss and moan about not getting their chance, and then when they're chance comes, they don't take it,” veteran goalkeeper Tim Howard remarked after the game. “[Diskerud] has worked hard and he got his opportunity and he's shown what he can do, so hopefully he can do more of that in the next couple games.”
Diskerud and Johannsson were far from the only bench players to make an impact, however. Midfielder Brad Davis showed plenty of endeavor on the left flank and delivered the corner kick assist for Johannsson’s goal, while Omar Gonzalez showed off his defensive chops after entering as a halftime substitute for Geoff Cameron.
In that sense, USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann got exactly what he wanted to see from most of the six substitutes he used on Tuesday night.
“With the 23-man roster, we try to tell the guys before the match that hopefully we get you – the six subs that we have – we give you enough time there to express yourselves and bring your element to the game,” Klinsmann told reporters after the game. “And you always hope for them to recognize their moment to give it an extra spark, and show what they are capable to do, and they keep doing that.
“Also through hard training and a lot of work there, they have their standing within the team, they have their values, every one of them has their special talents, their strengths, and we want to see those.”