There’s something missing from the Stars and Stripes: a No10-size hole left by the retirement of attacking talisman Landon Donovan. The missing piece in a side struggling to create, desperate for dynamism, might just be a man named Mikkel Morgenstar Pålssønn Diskerud, known simply as Mix.
“The name of the game is getting better and moving forward,” the gifted midfielder told FIFA.com, focusing on the road ahead instead of a string of three straight losses, including a 4-1 blowout by Brazil.
Diskerud is an individual. A reader and a thinker. He knows his own mind and speaks plainly. The word weird has even been heard, affectionately, to describe him around the US camp. It’s tempting to think his nickname comes from a mash-up of cultures. Born in Oslo to an American mum and a Norwegian dad, he was dubbed Mix by his mother because he was a baby with the energy of a blender.
Now 25, Diskerud is no longer frenetic. He drops deep in midfield, searching for the ball, and turns up unexpectedly in dangerous positions near goal. His long legs move him into invisible gaps. He sees openings others don’t and, most importantly, he takes chances. “He has the same skills and close control as an Oscar, at Chelsea,” said Kare Ingebrigtsen, his former coach at Rosenborg who, as a 23-cap Norwegian international, laments Diskerud’s decision to play for USA over Norway.
The USA way
Thomas Rongen, famed US talent spotter, remembers well the day in 2009 when he discovered Diskerud. He was warming up for his USA U-20s for a friendly against Stabaek, Diskerud’s Norwegian club at the time. “Someone told me the guy with the long hair, wearing the No10, was American,” Rongen remembered with a chuckle. He marched right over and asked him, mid-kick, if he had an American passport.
The answer was yes and it sparked off a tug of war between American and Norwegian youth teams. When asked which senior national side Diskerud was leaning toward, his answer was enigmatic. “I’m Norwegian and American,” he said. “First come, first served."
“I noticed how un-American he was in his creativity,” Rongen recalled. “There was a daring and a cunning to his game. He scored goals, but he set them up too and he could move from box to box. I hadn’t seen anything quite like it in the US system before.”
Diskerud chose USA and made his senior debut in 2010. He brought electricity, but didn’t mix seamlessly. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann praised his creativity but questioned his physicality. He’s not your average footballer. You get the sense he’s not happy saying yes sir and no sir. When an interview question isn’t precise enough, for example, he demands elaboration instead of pressing play on some tired answer. He reads challenging novels, like John William’s Stoner, the dense tale of a professor ignored by the world. He’s now in the middle of a history of Norwegian saboteurs, trained in England, who foiled a Nazi nuclear plot during World War II. “An incredible story,” he said.
Like many millennials, Diskerud is active on twitter. He tweets in Norwegian and English both, and recently reached out to fans in Manhattan, where he now lives and plays for New York City FC, for advice on buying a piano.
He was part of the American team that suffered and sputtered at the Gold Cup this summer, losing out in the semis to Jamaica. But Diskerud didn’t play in the recent CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico, a defeat that sees the Americans miss the 2017 Confederations Cup. Klinsmann chose, instead, a gritty midfield of old campaigners like Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, both over 30, and Michael Bradley, who struggled to keep the ball.
On the road to Russia
But Diskerud’s back in the team now for the start of 2018 World Cup qualifying and it may well signal a new era. First up is a date with Caribbean minnows St. Vincent and the Grenadines in St. Louis on Friday, followed by a trip to Trinidad and Tobago. “We’re all in it together,” said Diskerud, not bogged down by the stresses of inclusion and exclusion. “There are a lot of players in this team that I can learn from and maybe a few that I can teach some things to.”
Diskerud’s positivity isn’t in question, and neither is his playmaking at a time when it’s sorely needed. His first year in Major League Soccer, with NYCFC, has been topsy-turvy. The side missed the play-offs in their inaugural season, but there’s no end to what Diskerud can learn as understudy to legends like Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard, and as set-up man for Spanish scoring icon David Villa.
“We all want the same thing as a team,” said Diskerud, who wears the USA’s No10 since Donovan’s send-off last year, a game he took part in and recognized the gravity of. “Showing it on the field isn’t easy all the time because there’s another team out there trying to ruin it for you!”