SAN FRANCISCO – U.S. midfielder Mix Diskerud was in the spotlight from the start, if only for his jersey number.
In Tuesday night's exhibition against Azerbaijan, a 2-0 victory, the midfielder from Oslo, Norway, took over Landon Donovan's No. 10 and handled an awkward situation with grace – and a goal.
"It's an honor. A lot of great players have been wearing it -- Landon, Tab Ramos, Claudia Reyna. But I'm playing for this right here," Diskerud said, as he patted the U.S. Soccer crest on his chest. "I'm not playing for a number or my name on the back of a jersey."
Given teams have to issue uniform numbers from 1 to 23 for the World Cup, Donovan's number had to be reassigned. Mikkel Morgenstar Paalsonn Diskerud, better known as Mix, may seem like an unlikely candidate given his scant national team experience. He has worn a U.S. jersey 18 times in his career. To catch Donovan, he has 139 more games to go.
From Pele to Maradona to Platini, traditionally the number 10 is imbued with history and honor. In this case it's imbued with practicality. Diskerud was given the number by the team's equipment manager because it was the only one left.
"For me, I'm sort of borrowing it right now. I'm for sure going to play with Landon again, and he has more caps than me and he'll get it back then," he said with a laugh.
From two set pieces, two 23-year-olds from Norway and Iceland saved the United States from an otherwise uninspiring night. The Americans were lifted by goals from Diskerud and Aron Johannsson in a six-minute, second-half flurry.
Diskerud struck in the 75th minute, on a play which began with a Brad Davis free kick from the left side. Michael Bradley blasted a shot near the edge of the box, which ricocheted off a defender on the line. Diskerud, who had entered the match just four minutes earlier, put the ball away, scoring his third career goal.
"He has great vision, great passing technique," Jurgen Klinsmann said afterwards. "It's nice to see him make an impact."
In the 81st minute, Johannsson took a Davis corner kick and headed it home from five yards out. Johannsson was born in Alabama and raised in Iceland. Diskerud's mother is American, but he grew up in Norway, his father's country.
During the first half, the teammates sat on the bench together and discussed their strategy as second-half subs.
"I said, 'Do you want to come in on 2-0 or 0-0? And (Johannsson) said, 'Let's come in on 0-0 so we can score a couple of goals' and that's what we did," Diskerud said.
With the wind whipping the corner flags at Candlestick Park, billowing the back of the keeper's jersey and the wisp-thin DaMarcus Beasley in danger of being swept up like a piece of confetti, the United States played cold in its first of three World Cup warm-up games.
Against Azerbaijan, a national team ranked 85th in the world that's only been in existence since the early 1990s, the 14th-ranked Americans had a disjointed start. Minutes before kickoff, Seattle Sounders FC star and U.S. captain Clint Dempsey was scratched from the starting lineup due to a sore groin, a precautionary move, not a serious injury, according to Klinsmann.
Chris Wondolowski started in Dempsey's place. Goalkeeper Tim Howard wore the captain's armband. The weeknight crowd of 24,688 looked sparse in the cavernous, soon-to-be-extinct Stick.
"Overall we are happy with it," Klinsmann said. "We know we have a lot of work to do."
Next the U.S. team will head east to meet Turkey on Sunday at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. Then the Americans will face Nigeria on June 7 in Jacksonville, Fla., before leaving for Brazil.