The first match in the U.S.'s send-off series before the World Cup started with an unhealthy dose of panic when captain Clint Dempsey was pulled from the starting XI just before kickoff due to a sore groin. With Chris Wondolowski starting against Azerbaijan in his place, the U.S. meandered through the first half, unable to score against the world's 85th ranked team, who had their bus firmly parked in front of their goal.
But the second half brought several key changes for the United States. Brad Davis came on and played some lovely balls despite San Francisco's high winds. In the 71st minute, Mix Diskerud entered the match wearing the No. 10 shirt previously worn by Landon Donovan and just as Donovan scored in his first match after getting dumped by U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann, Diskerud and the No. 10 scored in its first match after parting company with Donovan. Michael Bradley's initial shot was saved on the goal line by an Azerbaijan defender, but Diskerud put in the rebound for just his third international goal four minutes after entering the game. That's not Donovan's team record 57 goals, but the ciricle of life goes on.
With the seal broken, another substitute, Aron Johannsson added a second goal in the 81st minute with a neat header off a Brad Davis corner kick and the U.S. won 2-0.
It wasn't pretty and playing against talented teams that actually try to score goals will surely prove more difficult than just having to break through a side with 10 men in the box, but it's a starting point. Dempsey is expected to be back for the next friendly against Turkey and perhaps the substitutes who impressed against Azerbaijan will get more minutes to build on their performances. But with each goal scored, the talk of Donovan being jilted might quiet down a bit so the U.S can focus on the more pressing matter of proving they can hang with their formidable Group G opponents. Or not.
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