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U.S. soccer team takes step in right direction, beats Azerbaijan, 2-0

SoccerSportsBrazilAzerbaijanClint DempseyChris WondolowskiJermaine Jones
The U.S. soccer team defeats Azerbaijan, 2-0, in international friendly match
Jurgen Klinsmann happy with U.S. win over Azerbaijan
Chris Wondolowski starts in place of Clint Dempsey and impresses

The U.S. World Cup team held its first dress rehearsal for Brazil on a chilly and windy Tuesday night at Candlestick Park. And though late goals by Mix Diskerud and Aron Johannsson gave it a 2-0 win over a determined team from Azerbaijan, it's clear there's still much to be done before opening night.

From Coach Juergen Klinsmann, however, the uneven performance got two enthusiastic thumbs up.

"Overall, we are happy with it," he said. "We know that there's a lot of work still ahead of us. There's no doubt about."

Granted, the U.S. was playing with heavy legs after a grueling two-week training camp. And it was hampered by both a swirling wind and a slick field.

But it was also playing Azerbaijan, which is ranked 85th in the world — or 82 spots behind Portugal, the Americans' second opponent in World Cup group play.

Among the positives Klinsmann will take away was the play of Geoff Cameron, who started in place of the Galaxy's Omar Gonzalez in central defense. He was steady and confident, especially when passing out of his own end, and could be the answer the U.S. has been looking for on the backline.

The same could be said of Chris Wondolowski, who was inserted into the lineup just before kickoff when Clint Dempsey was pulled with a sore groin and continued to make a case that he deserves substantial playing time in Brazil.

Then there was Diskerud. Wearing the No. 10 jersey abandoned by Landon Donovan, he scored the game's first goal while being knocked to the ground during a scramble in front of the net in the 73rd minute, two minutes after coming off the bench.

"It's an honor. A lot of great players have been wearing that No. 10 for the U.S. previously," said Diskerud, who is 54 goals short of tying Donovan's national team record. "I'll enjoy it. I'm just borrowing the uniform right now."

Johannsson, who also came on in the second half, made it 2-0 with a beautiful header six minutes later.

Also impressive — if less productive — were midfielders Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. Bradley once again anchored the diamond formation the U.S. used to great success against Mexico last month, and through it didn't shine as brightly Tuesday, Bradley was effective at creating space in the middle.

Jones, playing deep as a holding midfielder, was also active and disciplined, though he appeared less concerned with Azerbaijan than in prepping for kind of the aggressive attacks the U.S. will see in Brazil.

Now for the bad.

While Wondolowski was active up front, Jozy Altidore was a nonfactor for most of the first half. And through he showed some life early in the second half, he hasn't scored a goal for club or country since Dec. 4.

"I'm not worried at all," Klinsmann said. "He will come through and he will start to score. Obviously the sooner the better."

And then there's Dempsey, whose late scratch was explained away as a precaution. Maybe. But any injury this close to the World Cup can't be a good thing.

The U.S. continues its send-off tour against Turkey and Nigeria next week before leaving for Brazil. And for goalkeeper Tim Howard, finally getting that process started may have been the biggest positive to come out of Tuesday night.

"It's good to get going," he said. "Now we can play hard, recover, travel and go again.

"Tonight was what we probably expected.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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SoccerSportsBrazilAzerbaijanClint DempseyChris WondolowskiJermaine Jones
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