USMNT looks to youth as Brandon Vazquez and Cade Cowell shine in loss to Serbia
LOS ANGELES — In the team’s first game since the 2022 World Cup, the United States men’s national team netted an early goal from debutant Brandon Vazquez before conceding twice in a 2-1 loss to Serbia at BMO Stadium.
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1. Strong Mexican-American influence
All four players in the squad eligible to represent Mexico – Vazquez, Alejandro Zendejas, Cade Cowell and Jonathan Gomez – were in the starting XI. It was a clear statement of intent from US Soccer that the federation wanted long-term commitments from each of them.
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Vazquez, Zendejas – both in their first full national team games – and Cowell played together in a front three that was lively and consistently dangerous. Vazquez’s goal from a cross by debutant Julian Gressell was a superb finish – he directed the ball into the far corner – and leaves a positive first impression of his ability to play at international level.
For all the mid-season attention Zendejas drew from Club America, he was outshined by Cowell on the opposite wing. The San Jose Earthquakes winger has been billed as a potential star for years and despite being just 19 this is a massive year to cement what should be fair expectations for his development. If he’s as dangerous for the Quakes as he was against Serbia, then it’s fair to reignite talks about a possible European transfer.
Gomez didn’t have the same success as the other three. His physical limitations showed and provided important context for why he hasn’t made a first team game for Real Sociedad in LaLiga since moving from Louisville City to the USL in 2021.
Brandon Vazquez showed the promise of the next generation of players the USA can count on ahead of the 2026 World Cup. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
2. Gabriel Slonina makes history
Fresh from joining Chelsea from the Chicago Fire, Slonina made history as the youngest goaltender to ever play for the United States. At 18 years and 255 days, the record is held by Tony Meola, who made his debut against Ecuador a few months after his 19th birthday in 1988.
The youngster had a couple of nice moments – including a sequence where he was kicked in the head while pushing a ball off the line – and wasn’t really at fault for either of Serbia’s goals. Although he is still a long way from seeing the field in England, Slonina certainly has the talent to become USA No. 1 one day. Is this possible by 2026? That seems like a range, but not beyond the realm of possibility.
3. Typical mood for a January game
If US Soccer had hoped that the excitement of the World Cup would translate into a better than usual January atmosphere, it would have been disappointed. BMO Stadium – the new name for LAFC’s home stadium – was about half full and had the appropriate energy level for a glorified training exercise.
The reality for this type of game is that the outcome doesn’t matter. It’s about giving individual players the opportunity to show themselves at international level as part of their development process. There’s a team aspect, of course, but with USA playing with an interim coaching staff, there was less value there on Wednesday night than it otherwise could have been.
Seven starters made their national team debut, the most in a single 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’s a notable drop after Tyler Adams and Morris seem very willing to line up minutes behind him.
Best: Cade Cowell, USA
As mentioned above, Cowell played the left wing effectively throughout. He didn’t have a goal or an assist, but it felt inevitable to blow the defender who tagged him and put the ball in a good spot every time he got the ball.
Best: Veljko Simic, Serbia
Simic, who plays for Vojvodina in Serbia, scored the decisive goal early in the second half and influenced the Serbian attack throughout the game.
Worst: Marko Mijailovic, Serbia
Cowell was involved with Mijailovic throughout the night.
Worst: Jonathan Gomez, USA
Gomez showed that he is not ready to be considered for minutes in official competitions.
Worst: Jalen Neal, USA
Neal had some brilliant moments but got caught out of position a couple of times and wasn’t strong in possession.
Highlights and notable moments
Vazquez opened the scoring with a debut goal that night.
¡See estrena as goleador🤩 !
🇺🇸Estados Unidos 1-0 Serbia 🇷🇸
— Telemundo Deportes (@TelemundoSports) January 26, 2023
Serbia’s goals on either side of the half gave them the lead and victory over the USMNT.
©️ Вељко Симић за преокрет у Лос Анђелесу! 🇺🇸 1-2 🇷🇸 pic.twitter.com/z3gKZxVYYI
— Fudbalski savez Srbije | FA of Serbia (@FSSrbije) January 26, 2023
After the game: What the coaches and players said
USMNT Coach Anthony Hudson on Alejandro Zendejas: “Incredible. Obviously he has to return to his club tonight and I tried quite hard to ask him to stay because I thought he was outstanding. He’s been there for a few days and – you saw him tonight – you can see his personality on the field. He’s a really, really exciting player. Good quality. Technically really, really strong. Really offensive. I just love his desire to just move on and move on.”
Walker Zimmerman on starting Qatar against this friendly: “I told the guys in the group before the game that if we put on this jersey, we don’t care if it’s a World Cup game or a January camp game . You put on this jersey, it’s the pride you have to try to win the game. So we went out and wanted to be competitive. It’s a little bit different when you have that preseason deal, and for a lot of people it’s a week or two to get back in. Whereas in a normal January camp you have a whole month to build up. So for a lot of guys it’s really the first bit of football action they’ve had. From this point of view, it’s done difficult. It makes it difficult for the spins, fitness standpoint and then understanding.
Brandon Vazquez on scoring on his debut: “To make my debut tonight and to score on my debut with my family here near where I was born is something incredible. To see my family celebrate like this is something amazing to see.”
Key Statistics (provided by ESPN Stats & Information Research)
Vazquez becomes the 59th #USMNT player to score on his debut
Seven starters make their senior debuts – the most first caps in a USMNT starting XI since nine players made their senior debuts in a January 10, 1988 friendly against Guatemala
At 18 years and 255 days, Gaga Slonina becomes the youngest goaltender to play for the USMNT
USMNT: The Americans have another friendly against Colombia on Saturday, January 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET in nearby Carson, Calif.
Serbia: Serbia’s next games are scheduled for March in the qualifying tournament for the European Championship against Lithuania and Montenegro.