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Trickiest of triumphs for U.S. soccer team in 2-0 win over Azerbaijan (w/video)

  • United States' Chris Wondolowski (18) is defended by Azerbaijan's Rasim Ramaldanov during the first half of an international friendly soccer match on Tuesday, May 27, 2014, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

It started with a free kick by Brad Davis from the left side. Azerbaijani defender Ilkin Girtimov headed the ball but failed to clear it, and U.S. midfielder Michael Bradley fired a shot from near the edge of the box. Another defender, Elvin Yunuszade, made a nifty left-footed stop on the goal line, but Diskerud slotted the rebound into the right side of the net.

Diskerud was wearing No. 10, the jersey commonly reserved for a team's star scorer. Until recently, it was worn by Landon Donovan, but Klinsmann cut the aging superstar in a controversial move last Thursday. Diskerud assumed the shirt and lived up to its obligations.

The Americans seemed to relax after the goal, and had several more scoring opportunities. They capitalized in the 81st minute when the unmarked Johannsson scored on a header off a corner kick by Davis.

Talk about bench contributions: Diskerud, Johannsson and Davis all entered the game in the second half.

Candlestick is destined for implosion sometime in the next year, but the neglected 54-year-old stadium got the last laugh in its first USMNT game since 1979. The wind whipped off the ocean, as it has done during so many Giants and 49ers games through the years, and occasionally played havoc. High-arcing passes died in the face of the gale, and the ball rolled away from players on its own accord before free kicks. "You had to keep the ball on the ground," Klinsmann said. "If you hit a high ball, you know that ball is gone. It was all over the place."

The Azerbaijanis' defensive alignment was just as vexing to the U.S. team. They kept extra players back and challenged Klinsmann's squad to find a way to score.

Just five days after choosing his roster, the coach was forced to juggle his lineup as captain Clint Dempsey was scratched with a sore groin. Goalkeeper Tim Howard took over Dempsey's captaincy, and local favorite Chris Wondolowski, who grew up in Danville and now plays for the San Jose Earthquakes, started at forward.

It was Wondolowski who had the best scoring chances early on, both on headers. Just under three minutes into the game, he leaped for a free kick by Graham Zusi and launched a sharp ball that Azerbaijan goalkeeper Kamran Aghayev deflected. Wondolowski later headed another pass from Zusi, and Aghayev barely got a hand on it.

It was Howard's 53rd victory in international play, tying him for the USA record with another enduring goalkeeper, Kasey Keller.

Meanwhile, Klinsmann characterized Dempsey's injury as "not serious at all." "He had a little bit of pain (Monday) training, and he told me about it," the coach said. "He was a little bit nervous about it. And I said, you know what? If he needs one or two days of rest, that's what he needs."

Attendance at Tuesday's game was modest at 24,688, but those who braved the elements were energetic and boisterous. The team leaves for New York on Thursday, and plays a friendly against Turkey on Sunday. After that it's a final tune-up against Nigeria on June 7 and, finally, the World Cup starting June 16.


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