Last night, the United States men’s national team won a historic victory over Mexico in World Cup qualifying, propelling itself to a remarkable seventh straight World Cup.
The match was sealed when, on a beautiful bit of individual effort and skill, Mix Diskerud beat two defenders with one touch and slotted the ball across the face of the net for Landon Donovan to put the ball, and game, away.
With Michael Bradley out injured, U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann started the game with Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones as the midfield combination. Diskerud only came into the game as a substitute in the 75th minute for Eddie Johnson, who looked to be suffering from a concussion.
This was the third such time that Diskerud played the role of game-changing super-sub for the USMNT. In his November 2010 debut for the USMNT, at only 20 years old, Diskerud assisted on the game-winning goal in the team’s 1-0 win over South Africa.
Seven weeks after that night in Cape Town, Diskerud got his first start for the USMNT, a 90-minute effort against Chile in a 1-1 tie. After that game, he fell into the abyss, not appearing for the U.S. again until November 2012.
At that time, two years later, he came on as an 87th-minute substitute against Russia in a friendly. Diskerud again proved to be the difference-maker, scoring on a deflected half-volley to bring the U.S. level at 2-2 in the 93rd minute.
However, once again, Diskerud disappeared from the national team scene. In fact, prior to this summer’s Gold Cup, Diskerud had only played three total minutes in the Jurgen Klinsmann era.
The fact that Diskerud was even on the roster for this month's World Cup qualifiers shows how far he has come. Eighteen months ago, Klinsmann essentially said Diskerud was too soft for the USMNT when he stated, "Mix brings a lot of qualities, but he also needs to learn to become more robust, to become more physical, to not be kind of just moving around and not getting into real battles. You know, battles are everywhere; we all go into battles."
Diskerud was not even in the 18 for this year’s January match against Canada after being part of the training camp, which spoke volumes about Klinsmann’s faith, or lack thereof, in the young midfielder. Some even began to speculate that the dual-international would end up representing Norway.
For the September qualifiers, Diskerud was called up, while Champions League midfielder Sacha Kljestan was not—a sign that Diskerud had finally worked his way into the USMNT pecking order.
Michael Bradley remains the unquestioned No. 1 in the U.S. midfield and, as has become obvious over the past two years, Klinsmann favors Jermaine Jones as his partner. Jones, however, brings a host of problems.
For one, his effort in games in wildly inconsistent. Often, he appears to be completely uninterested in a game, wasting possession after possession and taking chances on tackles that look to be an act of madness.
He has also never seemed to develop a consistent partnership with Bradley. Jones tends to go forward more often than Bradley, which forces Bradley to hold back, despite the fact that he is a better offensive player than Jones.
At other times, Jones can appear to be a man possessed, pressuring the ball all over the field (under control), switching the point of attack, making last ditch tackles and recovery runs that cover for beaten teammates.
On the Jermaine Jones spectrum, last night's performance was nearer the latter, as he put in one of his more consistent games and finished the evening talking with the media while draped in an American flag.
And while Jones' performance last night was solid overall, he still lost possession the second most times of anyone on the field, caused the U.S. to give up two dangerous set pieces and almost allowed the Mexicans what would have been a confidence-building early goal when he lost possession only seconds into the game.
The other option to partner Bradley is Kyle Beckerman. While much-maligned by U.S. fans, Beckerman put in a solid argument through his play in the Gold Cup and last night. The other advantage of Beckerman is that his willingness/tendency to hold would allow Bradley to move up the pitch where he is the most dangerous.
The one drawback is that Beckerman tends to struggle in games when he has to cover more ground. If the U.S. opens up in the attack with Bradley going forward, Beckerman's lack of speed is more likely to get exposed.
Finally, there is Diskerud. Pairing Diskerud with Bradley would force Bradley into most of the holding duties as it does when Bradley is paired with Jones, but Mix is a more potent offensive threat than Jones. In addition to his game-changing performances with the USMNT as a late-game substitute, Diskerud demonstrated that he is capable of being a difference-maker over 90 minutes, as he did in the Gold Cup.
Throughout the tournament, his ability to hold the ball under pressure and switch the point of attack was vital to the U.S. success. In the Gold Cup final, even though Stuart Holden did start the match, Diskerud came on in the 23rd minute and helped the U.S. control the midfield in the win.
All in all, Jones, Beckerman and Diskerud all helped their cases last night, and with the U.S. now officially qualified for Brazil, Klinsmann has some time to experiment.
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