Chandler, Diskerud prove to be emerging options for national team
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Juan Agudelo's rise on the U.S. men's national team scene may be the trending soccer topic in this country, but another newcomer recently had his stock soar in a limited time as well.
Timmy Chandler earned his first U.S. cap on Saturday, coming on for right back Jonathan Spector at halftime of the 1-1 draw with Argentina. The speed and strength combination he displayed was impressive, and his ability to get forward and drill pinpoint crosses from the right earned rave reviews from his new coaches and international teammates.
"I thought he was great, and I thought he helped turn the tables a little bit on that side of the field," Landon Donovan said. "Those guys certainly don't like defending, and when he was able to push forward it gave us an opportunity to put them on their heels a little bit."
Not bad for a 20-year-old defender who just started playing first-team soccer in the Bundesliga a couple of months ago.
After coming through the Eintracht Frankfurt youth system, Chandler, born in Germany to an American father and German mother, moved to FC Nurnberg last summer where he rapidly ascended through the team's reserve ranks. He impressed Nurnberg first-team coach Dieter Hecking in a workout with the squad and earned a place on the matchday roster and made his first appearance in a German Cup game against Schalke on Jan. 25. After his first two Bundesliga appearances, the turning point in Chandler's season came in a Feb. 12 match against Stuttgart. He received his first start, scored a goal, assisted on another and earned Man of the Match honors.
During Chandler's climb to the Nurnberg starting XI, former U.S. and Nurnberg defender Tony Sanneh reached out to him to initiate contact between the player and U.S. Soccer. One of Bob Bradley's assistant coaches, Lubos Kubik, paid a visit to Nurnberg to speak with Chandler as well, showing the Americans' interest in him was genuine. When Chandler reciprocated the interest, the invitation to represent the United States was extended his way.
Fellow German-Americans Jermaine Jones and David Yelldell, along with Michael Bradley, who is on loan to Aston Villa from Bundesliga club Borussia Monchengladbach, have helped ease the transition to the national team for Chandler, for whom English is a second language.
The transition appears to be going pretty smoothly. Less than two months after becoming a regular starter on the club level, Chandler's 45 minutes against the likes of Lionel Messi, Angel di Maria and Ezequiel Lavezzi have become a major talking point in U.S. Soccer circles.
"To (play) my first game for the national team against them was very good, it was like a dream," Chandler said.
Chandler's performance wasn't without faults. He picked up a yellow card just moments after coming on for a bad challenge, and Lavezzi outpaced him twice on runs down the flank. On the whole, though, Chandler's showing gave cause to enter his name in the U.S. equation at right back behind entrenched starter and another Bundesliga standout, Steve Cherundolo, for the near and distant future.
"For a player that comes on for the first time, it was a good first half," Bob Bradley said. "We got the chance to bring him in and get to know him. So far he's come in with a really good way about him. Maybe nervous the first day, but after that, eager, and I know that this was a good way to get going."
One budding player who didn't get the chance to play against Argentina but should get some minutes against Paraguay is 20-year-old central midfielder Mikkel "Mixx" Diskerud.
Diskerud just began another season with Norwegian club Stabaek, with whom he recently signed a contract extension. As one of the up-and-coming midfielders in Bradley's player pool, Diskerud took part in his third U.S. camp. Unlike the November call-up for the friendly in South Africa or the invitation to January camp, though, Diskerud was able to participate with the A-Listers for the first time.
"Everything is much quicker now since the January camp," Diskerud said. "You play with the best, and you learn and you get a lot of experience. It's a different level."
Diskerud is somewhat of a Giuseppe Rossi-like figure in Norway. Rossi, born in New Jersey to Italian immigrant parents, spurned the United States for a chance to play for Italy, and many U.S. fans will forever hold a grudge against him for that decision. Diskerud was born in Oslo to an American mother, but here he is playing internationally for the United States instead of Norway -- a notion that he says hasn't gone over well with everyone in his native country.
"A lot of Norwegians are angry towards me, but they don't understand my decision," said Diskerud, who has represented both countries on the youth level. "I couldn't choose, and I said first come, first served. I got the opportunity (to play for the United States), so I'm really happy."
Diskerud showed flashes of his potential on the international stage by setting up Agudelo for the game-winning goal against South Africa with an excellent individual play, demonstrating savvy and slick ball control under pressure a few yards out from goal. With the U.S. lineup struggling in the 4-2-3-1 formation, but Bob Bradley adamant on seeing it through for a little while longer, Diskerud could emerge as a potential option in the center in the future, even as soon as Tuesday's friendly against Paraguay.
Regardless if he appears against the 2010 World Cup quarterfinalists, his presence among this crop of U.S. call-ups certainly qualifies as the next step in Diskerud's international progression.
"The whole game is so much quicker," Diskerud said. "You have to adapt to who you're playing against. Playing against these guys, it's a whole different world."
A few Americans in the lower-tier leagues of a couple of European countries did not have a break this past weekend. Here's how they fared (statistics encompass all competitions):