By FRANCO PANIZO
EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — On a night when the legendary No. 10 said goodbye, the current No. 10 showed he might be capable of helping fill the crater-sized hole being left behind.
Mix Diskerud continued to show he is making strides in his development on Friday night, putting together an impressive and silky smooth 90-minute performance in center midfield in the the U.S. Men’s National Team’s 1-1 draw with Ecuador. It was not just the way Diskerud positioned himself and took his goal in the fourth minute that opened some eyes, but also the way he accurately sprayed a wide range of passes to teammates and the manner in which he hustled to defend.
The grit and tenacity demonstrated on the defensive side of the ball were especially welcome signs for U.S. fans, as the 24-year-old midfielder has been judged in the past of being too frail to be a full-time starter on the international level.
He looked every bit an impact player against the Ecuadorians, however, and most of the Americans’ best plays throughout their dominant opening hour involved him.
“I felt like at least for the first 60-65 minutes I thought the whole team did well and I was a part of that,” said Diskerud.
Used as a central midfielder in a flat 4-4-2 formation, Diskerud was active from early on. His passes were accurate and well-weighted, he covered lots of grounds, and scored his fourth international goal on a nice little sequence that came while hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. fans were still in bumper-to-bumper traffic trying to get into Rentschler Field.
The strong individual start helped Diskerud deliver the type of outing many expected from him this summer, when he was chosen for the World Cup roster before failing to see any time in the tournament in Brazil.
“Mix is growing,” said U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann. “The message to him after the World Cup was, ‘If you want to break into this team as a starter one day, you’ve got to step it up. You have to become more aggressive, you have to challenge more one-against-one situations, you have to become more physical.’
“Can he play? Absolutely. Does he have tremendous vision? Yes. But he needs these other elements on the international stage to break through and I think he’s working hard on this. Also in training, and every time I see him doing that, he gets a little compliment.”
For Diskerud, the key is now being able to translate that type of showing when paired with more of the U.S.’s regulars. He has left his stamp in his last two international appearances, but that has come with more established veterans like Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones absent from the lineup.
Diskerud could be given a golden chance to further stake his claim on Tuesday, as the Americans host Honduras at FAU Stadium in Boca Raton, Florida, with both Bradley and Jones back in the mix and expected to start.
Impressing there could go a long way in helping him break into a U.S. lineup that is being experimented with ahead of the 2015 Gold Cup, but it likely will not be enough to convince Klinsmann.
“The challenge for all these players that you see from the younger side is consistency,” said Klinsmann. “That is for us the biggest challenge. Not showing it one game, (but) showing it in the next game, too, and then next month as well and showing it in their club team.
“We build this consistency over an entire season, obviously, over 11 months. We always see the talent that players have but can they move with that on a consistent basis? … It’s about, ‘Okay, am I able to go every four, five days with the same pace, same rhythm, same aggressiveness?’ He’s working on it, so I was pleased, obviously, with his performance.”
One commendable act that Diskerud did on Friday was trying to feed the retiring Landon Donovan for a goal. Donovan was playing in his farewell U.S. match, and Diskeurd admitted afterward that he was making a conscious effort to try and tee up the legend.
While an assist was not in the cards, Diskerud did share a few words with Donovan prior to the game. Diskerud would not say what their brief conversation was about, but it may well have revolved around the No. 10.
Diskerud had said back when he made the World Cup team and Donovan didn’t in May that he was just temporarily using the 32-year-old attacker’s number, and that he would return it in due time. Friday was that time.
“I exchanged a couple texts with Landon and that’s going to be between us,” said Diskerud. “But no hard feelings and I was happy to give the No. 10 back.”
With Donovan riding into the sunset, the No. 10 is up for grabs once again and Diskerud may very well be the one to claim it if he can continue to perform like he did on Friday.
“I thought Mix, the last few games, has been our best player,” Jozy Altidore said of Diskerud. “He’s in the middle, he’s everywhere, his tempo, the way he’s passing the ball, the way he’s moving around the box is very clinical.
“I think he’s growing. This is what you see when a player’s growing. It’s fun to watch because he’s been part of the program for a while and he’s taken his chance.”