Soccer / Sports

US downs Azerbaijan 2-0 in exhibition at Candlestick Park

SAN FRANCISCO -- Second-half reserves Mix Diskerud of Norway and Aron Johannsson of Iceland gave the U.S. soccer team a much-needed lift Tuesday night in a 2-0 victory over Azerbaijan in an exhibition in front of a crowd of 24,688 at Candlestick Park.

Never heard of them?

They are part of the United Nations of players headed to Brazil, where the Americans open their seventh consecutive World Cup finals June 16 against Ghana.

After Earthquakes star Chris Wondolowski got turned away on two wonderful chances in the first half, the United States (2-1-1) finally broke through late in the game to earn its second victory of the year.

Diskerud broke a scoreless tie in the 75th minute off a set piece. Michael Bradley's shot got knocked into the mixer by Azerbaijan goalkeeper Kamran Aghayev. Then Diskerud pounced on the loose ball and knocked into the net off a defender on the goal line.

Six minutes later it was Johannsson's turn. The goal was a simple one-two punch off a corner kick from midfielder Brad Davis.

No defender was within 3 yards of Johannsson, who headed the ball home with an exclamation point.

Until the breakthrough the players struggled with the swirling winds that harkened to the days of bedeviled visiting baseball teams. The 23-player unit headed to Brazil looked disjointed at times in its debut since Klinsmann named the team Thursday.

The victory, however, allowed goalkeeper Tim Howard to tie Kasey Keller with a U.S. record 53 victories.

Klinsmann (29-11-8) is one victory from matching Bora Milutinovic's total of 30 for third on the all-time U.S. list. Bruce Arena (71) and Bob Bradley (43) top the list.

The Americans will play Sunday against Turkey in Harrison New Jersey, and World Cup participant Nigeria on June 7 in Jacksonville, Florida.

In the first-ever meeting against 85th-ranked Azerbaijan, the Americans got their first victory at the 'Stick in 37 years. The Americans' last game at the aging facility was in 1979 against Russia.

The Americans started with distressing news when star Clint Dempsey was pulled before the game because of soreness in the groin muscle. A U.S. spokesman described it as a precautionary move.

The situation gave Danville's Wondolowski another opportunity to shine in an hour's action, this time in front of his hometown fans.

He had the biggest impact in the first half. Wondolowski had a sharp header off a Graham Zusi corner kick in the fourth minute that went straight to Aghayev.

But it took all of Aghayev's acumen to stop Wondolowski's blistering header nine minutes later off a fine serve by Alejandro Bedoya.

The United States final opportunity came in the 39th minute when Bedoya broke through in the penalty box. He drifted too far to the left to get a clear shot at the goalmouth. Bedoya's shot hit the side netting.

Although the U.S. defense held Azerbaijan out of the net, the Eastern Europeans made a couple forays at the Americans.

U.S. keeper Tim Howard had to bat down a 35-yard shot in the seventh minute then withstand a free kick that hit the top of the crossbar on the near post.

Klinsmann started defenders Omar Gonzalez and Timmy Chandler and midfielder Brad Davis to start the second half.

Johannsson replaced Wondolowski in the 62nd minute.

(c)2014 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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