USMNT look to youngsters like Brandon Vazquez, Cade Cowell shine in Serbia loss

LOS ANGELES — In the team’s first match at the 2022 World Cup, the United States Men’s National Team got an early goal from debutant Brandon Vasquez before conceding twice in a 1-2 loss to Serbia at BMO Stadium.

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Fast reaction

1. Strong Mexican-American influence

All four players on the roster eligible to represent Mexico – Vazquez, Alejandro Zendejas, Cade Cowell and Jonathan Gomez – were in the starting 11. This represents a clear statement of intent from US Soccer that the federation wants long-term commitments from each of them.

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Vazquez, Zendejas – both making their first full caps for the national team – and Cowell played together in a front three that was lively and constantly dangerous. Vazquez’s goal from a cross from fellow debutant Julian Gressel was a superb finish – diverting the ball into the far corner – and leaves a positive first impression of his ability to play at international level.

For all the attention Zendejas’ mid-season inclusion from Club America garnered, he was overshadowed by Cowell on the opposite wing. The San Jose Earthquakes winger has been considered a potential star for years, and even though he’s only 19 years old, this has been a huge year in terms of solidifying fair expectations for his development. If he’s as dangerous for the Quakes as he was against Serbia, it’s fair to renew talks of a potential European transfer.

Gomez did not have the same success as the other three. His physical limitations were on display and provided important context as to why he has not appeared for Real Sociedad’s first team in La Liga since moving from Louisville City to the USL in 2021.

2. Gabriel Slonina makes history

Fresh off his move from the Chicago Fire to Chelsea, Slonina made history as the youngest goalkeeper ever to play for the United States. At 18 years and 255 days, he takes the record from Toni Meola, who made his debut a few months after his 19th birthday against Ecuador in 1988.

The youngster had some fine moments – including one sequence where he was kicked in the head while pushing a ball off the line – and wasn’t really to blame for any of Serbia’s goals. Although he is still a long way from seeing the pitch in England, Slonina certainly has the talent to develop into a US No. 1 one day. Is it possible by 2026? That seems like a stretch, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

3. Typical mood for a January game

If US Soccer was hoping that World Cup excitement would translate into a better-than-usual January atmosphere, they were going to be disappointed. BMO Stadium – the new home of LAFC – was half full and had just the right level of energy for a glorified training exercise.

The reality of this type of game is that the score doesn’t matter. It is about giving individual players opportunities to be exposed at international level as part of their development process. There’s a team aspect, of course, but because the U.S. is playing with an interim coaching staff, there was less value Wednesday night than it might have otherwise.

Seven starters made their debut for the national team, the most in one game since 1988.

Best and worst performers

Best: Aidan Morris, USA

Morris was calm on the ball and solid defensively in a position – defensive midfielder – that lacks depth in the pool. There is a significant drop off as Tyler Adams and Morris look very much ready to compete for minutes behind him.

Best: Cade Cowell, USA

As mentioned above, Cowell has been consistently impressive playing on the left wing. He didn’t have a goal or an assist to show for it, but it felt inevitable that every time he got the ball, he would beat the defender marking him and put the ball into a good position.

Best: Velko Simic, Serbia

Simic, who plays for Vojvodina in Serbia, scored the winning goal early in the second half and was influential in the Serbian attack throughout the match.

Worst: Marko Mijajlovic, Serbia

Cowell handled Mijajlovic throughout the night.

Worst: Jonathan Gomez, USA

Gomez has shown that he is not ready to be considered for minutes in official competitions.

Worst: Jalen Neal, USA

Neal had some bright moments but was caught out of position a few times and wasn’t strong in possession.

Highlights and highlights

Vasquez opened the scoring on the night with a debut goal.

Serbia’s goals either side of halftime gave them the lead and victory against the USMNT.

After the match: What the managers and players said

USMNT coach Anthony Hudson on Alejandro Zendejas: “Unbelievable. Obviously he has to go back to his club tonight and I was pretty much trying to beg him to stay because I thought he was outstanding. He was after a few days and – you saw him tonight – you see his personality on the pitch. He’s a really, really exciting player. Good quality. Technically really, really strong. Really set to attack. I just love his willingness to just keep going and keep going.”

Walker Zimmerman on the start in Qatar against this friendly: “I told the boys in the pre-match huddle that whenever we put this shirt on, we don’t care if it’s a World Cup game or a January camp. Put this shirt on, it’s the pride you have to try and win the game. So we went out there and wanted to be competitive. It’s a little bit different when you have that preseason deal and for a lot of guys it takes a week or two to get back into it. While the normal is January camp, you have a whole month to upgrade. So for a lot of guys, it’s really the first bit of football action they’ve had. From that point of view, it makes it difficult. It makes rotations difficult, fitness-wise and then understanding.”

Brandon Vazquez to score in his debut: “To make my debut tonight and to score on my debut with my family here, close to where I grew up, it’s amazing. To see my family celebrate like that and it’s an amazing thing to see.”

Key Stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information Research)

  • Vazquez becomes 59th #USMNT player to score on debut

  • Seven starters earn their senior debuts – the most first caps in a USMNT starting XI since nine players debuted in a friendly against Guatemala on January 10, 1988.

  • At 18 years and 255 days, Gaga Slonina will become the youngest goalkeeper to play for the USMNT

Next up

USMNT: The Americans have another friendly against Colombia on Saturday, January 28 at 7:30 PM ET in nearby Carson, California.

Serbia: For now, Serbia’s next matches on the calendar are in March for the Euro qualifiers against Lithuania and Montenegro.

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