Americans love an event, and there is no bigger event than the World Cup. So why have Americans so long been ambivalent toward the global futbol spectacle? Perhaps it’s a lack of access (no longer an issue, since ESPN and NBC now ensure more soccer games are aired in these United States than in England). Perhaps it’s a lack of understanding of the rules (unlikely since a lot of kids have played the game for decades now; also, there are, like, five rules).
The one thing standing between the United States and a full on love affair with the beautiful game is a star of our own. We love athletes with big personalities and captivating narratives, and as of yet (with apologies to Alexi Lalas) we haven’t had that. Clint Dempsey is an extraordinary player, but he’s a quiet soldier who likes to go fishing. Landon Donovan was previously the biggest name, but I’ve heard him associated with the word “flaky” on more than one occasion (and in case you haven’t heard, he’s not playing in this tournament). Michael Bradley is forever underrated for reasons that remain unclear. Goalkeeper Tim Howard fits the bill (he’s captivating and borderline poetic in his interviews), but he’s been around for awhile and unlikely to be “discovered” by the general population at this point in his career.
If this US Men’s National Team is going to have a breakout star in the 2014 World Cup, it’s going to be one of coach Jurgen Klinsmann‘s younger guys. I hope it’s Mix Diskerud. He has all the right ingredients to be that star we Americans have longed to wholeheartedly embrace.
Let’s start with his name: Mix (short for Mikkel). It’s catchy, it’s memorable and it rolls nicely off the tongue after he’s just scored a goal and you’re thrown your beverage all over yourself in celebration. As a Norwegian-American, he’s one of Team USA’s seven dual-citizens (dad is Norwegian, mom is from Arizona). He was given a choice of which country he wanted to represent, and he chose the United States.
My thoughts on making the World Cup team: pic.twitter.com/uokAWE6FQU
— Mix Diskerud (@MixDiskerud) May 24, 2014
Of all the dual-citizens featured in ESPN’s recent “March to Brazil” series, none made it a point to demonstrate his American-ness more than Mix. He collects baseball caps, especially with the New York Yankees logo. Though he’s never lived full-time in the States, he speaks with an American accent (except for when saying his own name). He at one point tried to engineer a transfer to the Portland Timbers of MLS, but the deal fell through (apparently on the league side). He in no way strikes me as a mercenary sell-sword; he strikes me as a guy with a rich heritage who chose where he wanted to be. And he’s young, born in 1990 (the same year as Jennifer Lawrence and Paul George) so his career is just hitting its stride.
Mix is fine player with an easy-on-the-eyes energy to his game, but he’s not necessarily a big personality — at least not in the traditional John McEnroe sense. There’s something more subtle to his charm and sense of humor. He’s soft spoken and smiling when he says he’s by far the best ping-pong player on the team. There’s something of a wink about him when he juggles (like, with his hands) and has fans tweet him videos of themselves juggling too.
— Mix Diskerud (@MixDiskerud) June 12, 2014
But the moment I fell irrevocably in love with Mix came when he scored in the send-off game against Azerbaijan wearing the No. 10 jersey that some said “belonged” to Landon Donovan. He put his hand to the USA badge on his chest and answered: “I’m playing for what’s on the front of the jersey, not the back, the number or my name. With Landon, I feel like I’m just borrowing it, and I’m sure we’ll play together again someday and he’ll get it back.”
When I heard that answer delivered graciously with a dazzling Scandinavian smile, I though this kid had the makings of a star. Get on board the Mix bandwagon now; with any luck his stock (and the USMNT’s in general) will soon be on the rise.