In the 75th minute of New York City Football Club's MLS debut, midfielder Mix Diskerud authored the first goal in the club’s history. The quick two-touch strike from just inside the penalty box that curved around Orlando City Soccer Club goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was a clinical finish that NYCFC fans will grow familiar with as the Norwegian-American settles into his new team.
“Scoring that goal felt amazing. I didn’t have too much time; my touch was a little bit closer to me than I wanted it,” Diskerud says. “I think I kind of got Ricketts off guard because I scooped it kind of quick.”
That helpless feeling that befell Ricketts was one that Diskerud has given to many goalkeepers during his career. He says that his ball handling skills are among his greatest attributes. But there is a secret behind the midfielder's exemplary footwork.
Since his childhood, Mikkel, “Mix” as his mother dubbed him, has always had a ball at his feet. It could have been a handball, a tennis ball, or the soccer ball that we are accustom to seeing him with today.
“I would always be playing, juggling, doing different tricks. For me, that was huge help in building my ball handling skills,” Diskerud says. “My mom always got mad at me because she didn’t want me to break things. Over the years, as I got better, I would break less.”
Years of juggling tennis balls at his feet have left Diskerud with some of the best handles on his team, whether it is NYCFC or the U.S. Men's National Team. Another one of Mix’s strengths is his vision, which he credits to time spent on the basketball court in Norway.
“I played point guard until I was 15 or 16 years old, and I really do think that helped me move forward in soccer,” Diskerud says. “That was where I learned to see different parts of the game and to assist other players in scoring.”
Diskerud moved on from basketball, but retained the vision that it taught him. When he combined it with the footwork that he’d cultivated himself breaking things around his house, the midfielder the world knows today began to take shape.
Another secret about Diskerud is that basketball directly helped him decide to dedicate his life to soccer. After playing in a basketball game, a 16-year-old Mix hustled straight to a soccer match. He pulled up with a leg cramp in the 25th minute. He never told his coach about the true reason behind the cramp, but the experience showed that he had a decision to make.
“I didn’t dare tell my soccer coach about the real reason I cramped up. After that, I realized that it wouldn’t be able to work, playing both sports. I decided then that I had to go fourth with only soccer,” Diskerud says. “I’ve actually never told anybody that until now.”
Diskerud’s offensive prowess has served him well of late; since the end of the World Cup, the midfielder has become a USMNT regular. He joined MLS as an integral part of NYCFC from Norwegian side Rosenborg in January. As his status with both club and country elevates, Diskerud will have to take on more responsibility as a player.
USMNT coach Jurgen Klinsmann recently challenged Diskerud to become more of a defensive presence for the national team. MLS also has a reputation of being a more physical league than Norway’s Tippeligaen. So it’s no surprise to hear Diskerud say that he’s more focused on improving his habits in strength training and nutrition than he has in the past.
Since the World Cup, where Diskerud was on roster but never made an appearance, Mix spent five months working with a personal trainer in Norway before arriving stateside, and has been pleased enough by the results that he plans to continue with it moving forward.
“There are so many battles in soccer, 50/50 duels. If you have a little bit more meat on you, you’re going to win more of those. It’s not for the ladies on the beach in the summer season; it’s to play good soccer.”
Despite all of the changes he’s made, Diskerud hasn’t forgotten what got him to this point. He still analyzes the strengths and weaknesses of his fellow midfielders, especially his idol, Italian playmaker Andrea Pirlo. And you'll still find Diskerud juggling anything he can get his hands on, while trying not to break things in his new home in New York.
“The process never ends,” Diskerud says. “You can always be better.”
L.A. Galaxy assistant Dave Sarachan's foot drills
Illustrations by Jason Lee
Cone trainingBeginner: Weave around cones arranged in a straight line two yards apart as fast as possible. Advanced: Cut inside and outside of cones arranged in a diamond formation.
JugglingKeep the ball off the ground, using the feet, thighs and head. Focus on keeping the ball in the air for as long as possible.
Two-touch passingReceive the ball with the inside of one foot and quickly pass to a partner five to 10 yards away using the inside of the other with good pace on the ball.