CANDLESTICK PARK — Sometimes the starters just can’t get anything going. When that happens, you’re going to need superb play off the bench.
Photos by Scot Tucker/SFBay
That’s exactly what happened for the U.S. Men’s National Team Tuesday, as second half goals from substitutes Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson helped the Yanks defeat Azerbaijan 2-0 in the first of three warm up matches for the upcoming World Cup in Brazil.
For the first 75 minutes of the match furious winds pummeled Candlestick Park, aiding the lack of offense.
Chris Wondolowski stepped in for captain Clint Dempsey, who was a late scratch, and provided an early spark with two headers forcing diving saves from the Azerbaijan keeper.
Dempsey’s absence, due to a groin pull, was deemed minor by U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann. Dempsey spoke with his coach before the game about soreness, prompting the last minute lineup change.
Ultimately, substitutes Diskerud and Johannsson would provide the necessary goals to seal the victory.
As is customary for the U.S., both goals came via set piece. Diskerud scored off a failed clearance following a free kick in the 75th minute, while the Icelandic-American Johannsson headed home a Brad Davis corner to close the game out in the 81st.
After it was all said and done, Klinsmann said he was satisfied with the team’s performance:
“It was exactly what we need at this point of our preparation after two fully loaded weeks…It was a tricky game. You want to open it up with a goal, and it gets easier. You want to score a bit earlier.”
Tuesday’s match was the first for the United States since announcing their 23-man World Cup roster on May 22nd. The squad has been training together in Palo Alto since May 14th.
Defense has been a revolving door for the U.S. team, and Klinsmann once again started a new pair at center-back, with Geoff Cameron and Matt Besler starting their first game together for the stars and stripes.
The pairing did well on their debut helping the team earn a necessary clean sheet against an Azerbaijan squad that had trouble getting the ball out of it’s own half for much of the match.
It wasn’t a fluke, according to Klinsmann, who was trying to get as many players on the field as possible. Geoff Cameron started over Omar Gonzalez who is dealing with a left knee injury he suffered earlier this month and came on as a substitute in the second half.
Though he didn’t find the back of the net, Wondolowski’s unexpected start was mostly impressive. Though wind conditions were less than ideal, Wondolowski kept the pressure on Azerbaijan’s defense, slowly grinding them down. Wondolowski had scored nine goals in his previous 10 games for the United States entering Tuesday’s match.
Responsible for two of seven U.S. shots on goal, Azerbaijan was forced to expend their energy just trying to stay in the game.
Goalkeeper Tim Howard only needed two saves during 90 minutes. Howard described it as a clean sheet, adding:
“We created some good chances, we took our goals well. I thought we defended well with two of our substitutions. We’ll have a tough opponent when we get to New Jersey and we’ll have to go again.”
The U.S. Men’s National Team face Turkey in the second game of the Send-Off Series at 2 p.m. ET on Sunday, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey.