SAN FRANCISCO -- Chris Wondolowski knew about the legendary winds at Candlestick Park as a Giants fan.
But the baseball fan in him sometimes wondered why players failed to catch the ball in those nasty swirls.
"I can see why now," he said Tuesday night after the U.S. soccer team defeated Azerbaijan 2-0 in wicked conditions.
Both teams struggled to place the ball accurately on a night second-half reserves Mix Diskerud of Norway and Aron Johannsson of Iceland scored to give the United States a much-needed boost in an exhibition in front of a crowd of 24,688 at Candlestick Park.
Never heard of them?
They are part of the United Nations of players headed to Brazil, where the Americans open their seventh consecutive World Cup finals June 16 against Ghana.
The World Cup team's debut Tuesday didn't offer too much indication of how the team will gel in three weeks.
"We're not supposed to be peaking now," said Wondolowski, who had two brilliant chances turned away in the first 15 minutes.
The Earthquakes star started for regular Clint Dempsey, who was given two days off to recover from a slight groin muscle strain.
Coach Jurgen Klinsmann decided in warm-ups to call upon Wondolowski, whose headers in the fourth and 15th minutes were turned back by Azerbaijan goalkeeper Kamran Aghayev.
After Wondolowski's lightning-quick threats, the United States (2-1-1) settled into a trench-like struggle against the world's 85th-ranked team.
But the Americans found brightness in the final 15 minutes in the first-ever meeting against Azerbaijan. It led to the United States' first victory at the 'Stick in 37 years.
The scoring came in the 75th minute when midfielder Brad Davis served a free kick that was headed up but not far enough from the Azerbaijan goal. Then Michael Bradley took a shot from the edge of the penalty box that was saved by defender Elvin Yunuszade on the goal line.
But the ball fell to Diskerud, whose mother is American but who grew up in Norway. The midfielder, who was given Landon Donovan's No. 10 jersey number, sent it home inside the near post.
Six minutes later, it was Johannsson's turn. The goal was a simple one-two punch off a corner kick from Davis. No defender was closer than 3 yards from Johannsson, who was born in Mobile, Alabama, but moved with his parents to Iceland when he was 3, when he headed the ball home with an exclamation point.
Until the breakthrough, the players seemed frustrated by the swirling winds that hearkened to the days of bedeviled baseball players.
"The wind is the hardest element to play in," said U.S. keeper Tim Howard, who tied Kasey Keller's 53 all-time victories.
Balls had to be played on the ground because of the gusts, making it difficult to tell how in sync Klinsmann has the American offense.
"I think they did the best they could do under those conditions," Klinsmann said.
But questions prevailed in the aftermath of the debut of the 23-player roster Klinsmann named Thursday that excluded the face of the American team -- Donovan.
But it's not Donovan's attacking position that is of primary concern. The defense features only one World Cup veteran in left fullback DaMarcus Beasley.
Also, Klinsmann showcased a new formation for the young group with a diamond defense. Howard found positives after seeing how the defenders communicated with each other.
"Clean sheets build confidence," he said of the shutout.
The United States is scheduled to train Wednesday at Stanford for the final time before departing for the East Coast. The Americans will play Turkey on Sunday in Harrison, New Jersey, and World Cup finalist Nigeria on June 7 in Jacksonville, Florida.
Azerbaijan coach Berti Vogts also dismissed any concerns in the United States' first game since tying Mexico on April 2. He will switch hats to become a U.S. adviser now.
"They are powerful," Vogts said of the Americans. "They play at a high speed."
Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/elliottalmond.
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