Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
The U.S. Men’s National Team was on its way to a disappointing scoreless draw vs. Azerbaijan, but a pair of substitutes came off the bench to provide timely goals that paved the way for a victory.
Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson both made their impacts felt by scoring in brief cameos in a 2-0 victory over Azerbaijan at Candlestick Park in San Francisco on a windy Tuesday night. Diskerud scored the winner off a rebound in the 75th minute, and Johannsson added the insurance tally six minutes later to help the Americans overcome a subpar showing in their first send-off series match ahead of the 2014 World Cup.
The U.S. bossed possession for much of a match that began with Clint Dempsey being a late scratch in the starting lineup due to a groin injury. Chris Wondolowski took Dempsey’s place as a precautionary measure, but the veteran forward and the rest of the Americans were unable to find the back of the net until a flurry of substitutions were made by both sides.
“We knew it was going to be tricky with the conditions out there,” said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “You need to keep the ball on the ground. If you hit a high ball, you know that ball is gone. It goes all over the place. You want to play through their lines. They had 10 guys behind the ball, so the only way to get through that is with fast combination play or maybe a 1-against-1.
“It’s really difficult. I think they did the best they could do with those circumstances and they found a way eventually to get them under pressure and create something, even if it was a little bit later, but the goals came. Overall, we’re happy with it tonight.”
Diskerud, who wore the recently-cut Landon Donovan’s No. 10, found the game’s winner four minutes after entering the match as Jurgen Klinsmann’s sixth and final substitution. Michael Bradley started the goal-scoring sequence by rifling a shot on frame that beat Azerbaijan goalkeeper Kamran Agayev but was cleared off the goal line by defender Elvin Yunuszada. The ball then fell into the path of Diskerud, who one-timed it home for his third goal in 18 matches for the U.S.
Six minutes later, an unmarked Johannsson netted his second goal in eight caps. Brad Davis played a corner kick from the right and Johannsson raced onto it before perfectly placing it into the top right corner of the net.
The two strikes helped Klinsmann’s side overcome a lackluster first 70 minutes in which it had a chunk of the possession but struggled to breakdown an organized Algerian defense that put numbers behind the ball.
“It’s a difficult game for a lot of reasons,” said Bradley. “Obviously, the conditions, the wind make it difficult, and this is a team that is difficult to play against. You watch them play qualifiers in Europe against good teams and they make it hard. They close space down, they’re organized.
“The training exercise for us tonight was trying to find space, trying to find ways to break them down. At times that part was good, at times it could’ve been a little better. But it’s normal that now after 10 days, 2 weeks of hard work, that that part in stretches was good but can be even better.”
Wondolowski had the two best chances of the game prior to the second-half goals, but he was unable to beat Agayev with either of his headed efforts. Wondolowski peeled away from his mark and nodded a ball right at Agayev in the fourth minute following a free kick from Grahan Zusi, and then saw the Azerbaijan netminder spectacularly deny him with a flying save in the 15th minute after a cross from the right from Alejandro Bedoya.
“For Chris, it was a little hectic obviously, coming on at the beginning, but he did fine,” said Klinsmann. “With a little big of luck, he scores that header right away, and that was not an easy header to take because the wind just takes that ball in all sorts of directions. It’s not that you can really place the ball where you want. You just have to actually hit it.”
The Americans, playing in a 4-4-2 formation with a diamond midfield setup, were not tested much defensively. Tim Howard saw a free kick from Mahir Sukurov flash a couple feet wide in the 12th minute in one of Azerbaijan’s best chances of the match, and was forced into making just two saves while serving as U.S. captain in place of Dempsey.
Geoff Cameron helped Howard and the defense post the cleansheet, starting and playing a solid 45 minutes at centerback. Cameron demonstrated good passing abilities, but was not tested much before making way for Omar Gonzalez at the start of the second half.
“I think it was exactly what we needed at this point of our preparation after two fully-loaded weeks at Stanford with a lot of training sessions, a lot of work,” said Klinsmann. “They gave us a good game. We needed to grind it out. That’s what we told the players before. You’ve got to be patient. You’ve got to find a way to score a goal and then a second one.”
The Americans next head to Harrison, N.J. to take on Turkey at Red Bull Arena on Sunday.
What did you think of the USMNT’s 2-0 win over Azerbaijan? Who impressed and disappointed you? Chalk up the rough outing to it being the first match of the send-off series?
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