(Reuters) - There may be a distinctly German flavor to the U.S. World Cup team but in their opening warm-up game, a 2-0 win over Azerbaijan, it was two Scandinavian-raised substitutes who made the difference.
German-born coach Juergen Klinsmann has five players on his squad who were born and raised in his homeland and all but one of them play in Germany’s Bundesliga with three of them, defenders Timothy Chandler, Fabian Johnson and midfielder Jermaine Jones, expected to feature heavily in Brazil.
But after the United States struggled to break down a well-disciplined Azeri team on Tuesday, Klinsmann threw on midfielder Mix Diskerud and forward Aron Johannsson and they provided the late goals that secured the win.
“You always hope for them to recognize the moment and give you an extra spark and show what you are capable of doing,” Klinsmann said of his substitutes.
“Mix comes in and fits in like he’s been playing the whole game and also scores a goal.”
Oslo-born midfielder Diskerud, who plays for Rosenborg in Norway, pounced to score from close range in the 75th minute and eight minutes later former Iceland youth international Johannsson headed in the second from a corner.
Diskerud, whose mother is American, has long been part of the U.S. set-up having played for the country at youth level but Johannsson, born in Alabama to Icelandic parents who left the United States when he was three-years-old, only chose Klinsmann’s team last August.
Johannsson has been in prolific form for his Dutch club AZ Alkmaar, scoring 32 goals in 56 games in all competitions last season, and his capture was a major boost for Klinsmann whose first choice striker Jozy Altidore endured a miserable season in England scoring one goal for Sunderland.
The striker will have to fight his way into the starting line-up for Brazil but his ability in front of goal could prove to be too good to ignore for Klinsmann whose team face a tough Group G against Ghana, Portugal and Germany.
Certainly the confident header from a Brad Davis corner will give the U.S coach some food for thought.
“I asked the assistant coach (Andreas Herzog) where I should be in the offensive quarter and he told me just go in there and find the space and make a goal and that is exactly what happened,” said Johannsson.
Diskerud, who operates as an attacking midfielder, could find himself used mainly as an impact substitute and given his childhood hero was former Norway and Manchester United striker Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, who made a habit of coming off the bench to score crucial goals, he seems comfortable with that role.
”You see where there’s room and the runs that are being made. When you get in you want to be able to do something about it. Growing up, my idol was Solskjaer. I saw him play a lot coming off the bench. A role like that is fun to do,” he said.
Klinsmann was forced to withdraw Clint Dempsey just before kick-off with a groin injury but the coach said he expected the forward to be fit for Sunday’s friendly against Turkey in New Jersey.
Reporting By Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue