SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Second-half substitutes Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson scored to lift a heavy legged United States over Azerbaijan 2-0 on Tuesday night in the first of three World Cup warmups for the Americans.
On a night when captain Clint Dempsey was scratched just before kickoff because of a sore left groin, the 14th-ranked Americans had trouble breaking down No. 85 Azerbaijan.
Diskerud, a Norweigen-American wearing the No. 10 jersey that freed up when Landon Donovan was cut from the roster last week, entered in the 71st and scored four minutes later off Brad Davis’ free kick.
With the ball high in the box, Diskerud headed it down to Michael Bradley, whose shot was cleared off the goal line by Elvin Yunuszade. Diskerud then banged the ball in from 6 yards for his third international goal.
Johannsson, a Icelandic-American, entered in the 62nd and scored in the 81st with an open header from the top of 6-yard box off a corner kick by Davis, who replaced Graham Zusi at the start of the second half.
Tim Howard, making his 98th international appearance, got his 53rd win to tie Kasey Keller’s U.S. record.
Next up is a match Sunday against Turkey at Harrison, New Jersey, followed by a game with Nigeria six days later in Jacksonville, Florida.
The Americans began their intense two-week training camp May 14 at nearby Stanford University, and there appeared to be tired legs.
U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann made the controversial decision to cut Donovan, the American career scoring leader. Dempsey, slated to start up top with Jozy Altidore in a 4-4-2, was an unexpected absence.
“We don’t want to risk here anything,” said Klinsmann, who estimated Dempsey would heal in two-to-three days.
Chris Wondolowski, inserted in place of Dempsey, was stopped twice early by goalkeeper Kamran Aghayev, the first with a knee on a diving header in the fifth minute. Wondolowski’s header off a cross from Alejandro Bedoya in the 15th was parried over the bar.
Azerbaijan, coached by U.S. adviser Berti Vogts, was outscored 5-0 in a pair of World Cup qualifiers by Portugal, the second U.S. opponent at the World Cup.
With wind whipping the corner flags early in the game at Candlestick Park, and even moving set balls out of place, a new-look U.S. defense was tested.
Fabian Johnson started at right back, with Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron as the central defenders, picked over Omar Gonzalez. DaMarcus Beasley, looking to become the first American to appear in four World Cups, was at left back.
Besler and Cameron played together in the middle once previously, against Jamaica in a World Cup qualifier last October. The Americans have no central defenders with previous World Cup experience for the first time since 1990.
Johnson started three games at left back last year but just once on the right — in the clinching World Cup qualifier against Mexico in September.
Michael Bradley was at the top of the midfield diamond, with Jermaine Jones deep, Zusi on the right and Bedoya the left.
This match became the true final football game at Candlestick, former home of the NFL San Francisco 49ers through last season and baseball’s San Francisco Giants until after the 1999 season.
NOTES: A foul by Azerbaijan D Evlin Yunuszade on Davis early in the second half appeared to be inside the box but was called a free kick by Costa Rican referee Henry Bejarano. ... Timmy Chandler played left back in the second half for his first appearance with the U.S. since a World Cup qualifier at Honduras in February 2013. ... Donovan was named MLS Player of the Week for his two-goal performance with an assist for the LA Galaxy in Sunday’s 4-1 win over the Philadelphia Union. ... Injured American MF Stuart Holden attended the game ... A Nike ball was used rather than the Adidas World Cup model.