San Jose, Costa Rica – The U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team is on a high right now riding a best ever 12 game winning streak into Friday night’s World Cup Qualifier against Costa Rica, in San Jose, Costa Rica.
That winning streak has been built by what is being called the deepest team in USMNT history. Part of the reason for that depth has been an aggressive campaign by US Soccer to take advantage of FIFA’s loosened national eligibility rules, to add several players of dual nationalities.
One of those players, Norwegian-American midfielder Mikkel Diskerud sat down for an exclusive chat with GotSoccer Thursday afternoon at the team’s hotel in San Jose.
Better known as Mix, Diskerud recalled that he first considered playing for the U.S., ironically enough, when he played a match against his Connecticut born mother’s home country. “It started with a game in Mexico with my junior team Staebek, a couple of years ago. We played against the Under 20 U.S. team, with Thomas Rongen, he was the coach.”
Diskerud remembers, “I was going to take a corner kick and I think that somebody had tipped him (Rongen), or given him a tip that I had dual citizenship. So he came, he sat next to the corner flag, and just when I was about to take it he said, “hey are you Mix?” “I said, yeah.” “American passport?” (Rongen) “Yes sir,” Diskerud told Rongen.
Rongen then invited Diskerud into the next U.S. U20 camp. “I had a pretty good game,” Diskerud remembered, “so I was like, cool, sounds good.” And Diskerud says “that’s how the journey kind of started.”
Diskerud made an immediate impression for the U.S. U20’s, “my first game I had three assists against Northern Ireland,” but surprisingly, Diskerud didn’t hear back right away from US Soccer.
That delay allowed Norway to jump in, starting a tug of war for Diskerud’s services that only concluded at this summer’s Gold Cup. “So then I played a couple of games for them,” Diskerud said, “actually, one against the U.S.”
Not wanting to lose out on Diskerud, Rongen invited the lanky midfielder into the U20 squad. Diskerud recalls he was being asked often who he would play for, and his answer at the time was, “first come first serve.”
Soon after, Bob Bradley came calling and once again Diskerud made a good first impression for the U.S, this time for the full national team. Bradley tapped Diskerud to play against South Africa soon after the 2010 World Cup. “ I got an assist, Juan Agudelo scored,” Diskerud said, “and it was a huge experience, it was so much fun.”
Still not cap tied, Diskerud was called into a couple of U.S. camps, then didn’t hear from Bradley for a while. Was he worried?“No,” Diskerud, still now just 22 years old shrugged, “I was young.”
Regular game time with Staebek kept Diskerud busy until U.S. Soccer called again, this time inviting Diskerud to join the ill fated Olympic Qualifying team. “That didn’t go how it was supposed to,” Diskerud told GotSoccer, but he still found the experience worthwhile.
“No, no, no,” Diskerud said when asked if the Olympic flop could have dissuaded him from selecting the U.S. “Caleb Porter is a great coach, he’s showing that now in Portland. The team was a good team,” Diskerud says, still sounding puzzled at their lack of success. “We just call it a little, small failure.”
“Just being part of that group, helped me and made me want to be a part of this.” But even then Diskerud wasn’t sure. Deciding to play for the U.S. was clearly a huge decision for Diskerud. In fact, when asked when he made his choice, Diskerud told GotSoccer, “I don’t really know.”
The Norway U21 coach and the President of the Norwegian Federation invited Diskerud in to try and convince him to throw his lot in with Norway but Diskerud said, “I still wasn’t sure, and then I got called in for the Gold Cup.”
This summer’s victorious Gold Cup was something of a coming out party for the young Norwegian-American, who showed skeptics that there is a lot more to his game that pretty passes.
Diskerud read that Klinsmann, “wanted to see more grit from me, more of the defensive work.” “I had the opportunity to show it (that grit) in Gold Cup,” and Diskerud said, “I felt like I did.”
Diskerud’s adjustment to the U.S. team has been a smooth one, thanks to a lifetime of traveling back and forth between Norway and the U.S. Diskerud enjoyed spending time in the U.S. so much that, “when I was younger I wanted to go to school in the States and Norway at the same time, back and forth, but in Norway, you weren’t allowed to do something like that.”
Still Diskerud, “traveled four times a year, or three times a year growing up and every single Christmas, I spent in the States so,” Diskerud states, “I am an American.”
And don’t let anyone try to tell the Norwegian-American that he is not. Not his friends on the Norway national team. “We joke around and I am always telling them that the U.S. is in front of Norway in the FIFA rankings,” Diskerud says. “They can’t believe that, they say.” Diskerud is right, of course. His national team is ranked 19th, six places ahead of Norway.
As for any fans who believe that hyphenated Americans like Diskerud are somehow less than the real thing, Diskerud says, “everybody tells me I’m a real American. They’re welcome to come to Norway with me and I’ll show them how American I am.”
Now with the Gold Cup Championship behind him, Diskerud is hoping to earn a place on the U.S. team for the 2014 World Cup next summer in Brazil. The decision is behind him now and people tell Diskerud, that because he elected to play for the U.S., that the U.S. won. Diskerud though, sees it differently and he tells them, “no I won.”