Brandon Vazquez finally got his national team chance Wednesday and without question, took it with confidence.
The FC Cincinnati striker’s upward course continued as he followed his excellent MLS season with a strong performance in his first Men’s National Team match, a 2-1 USA loss to Serbia in an international friendly at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles. Denied a chance to earn a spot on the U.S World Cup roster last year, Vazquez put in a very active shift as a complete forward and most notably managed to find the back of the net in his MNT debut.
FCC goalkeeper Roman Celentano is also on the U.S. roster for this training camp but was not listed among the substitutes for Wednesday’s contest.
For Vazquez, his first involvement came in the 12th minute when he gathered a bounding ball in the Serbia area and attempted a cross that was blocked. Positioned at center forward, Vazquez soon afterward charged down an attempted clearance from Serbia goalkeeper Dorde Petrovic, then received a pass from Cade Cowell before shooting wide.
That most of the U.S. team, which featured six debutants in the starting lineup, had not played together was evident in the early going. The group began to gain some fluency as the match went on however, with Cowell coming close on after receiving a pass from Columbus Crew midfielder Aidan Morris.
Vazquez made a trademark, intelligent run into the center of the penalty area, but former Louisville City and current Real Sociedad left-back Jonathan Gomez’s cross was slightly overhit. Morris then made a 50-yard run from midfield and hit a blistering shot that was well-saved. Later, he managed to get another shot away from a scramble caused by a corner, but he was seated on the ground and the effort had no power. The magic moment for the FCC striker, however, was on its way.
The debut goal for Vazquez came in the 29th minute. Right back Julian Gressel hit a cross from deep and Vazquez made a run to the penalty spot, rising to meet the ball and expertly directing it past Petrovic and into the corner of the net for a 1-0 U.S. lead. Needless to say, Vazquez was delighted and the well-taken goal can only be a boost to his national team prospects going forward.
The ever-dangerous Vazquez had a decent chance to double his goal tally, but Cowell’s pass after a corner was just out of his reach. Along with his attacking threat, Vazquez was active in the team’s pressing efforts and consistently dropped deep to provide holdup and linking play with the team’s midfielders. The rest of the first half featured a couple of highlight-reel saves from another USA debutante, former Chicago Fire and current Chelsea FC goalkeeper Gaga Slonina, but he was beaten by a free kick in the 43rd minute from Serbia’s Luka Ilic. The shot squirmed through a hole in the U.S. defensive wall to tie the game at 1-1.
The 2nd half began disastrously for the U.S. with a mistake from Neal gifting Serbia’s Veljko Simic a goal to make it 2-1 to the visitors. San Jose’s Cowell nearly equalized twice, hitting the goalpost twice then firing wide after a weaving run in one flurry of chances.
Interest in the match from viewers in Cincinnati likely took a major drop in the 62nd minute when Vazquez was subbed out for Middlesbrough’s Matthew Hoppe, but the FCC standout had already made his point with a solid overall match punctuated by his goal. The U.S. created more chances as the 2nd half wore on but couldn’t fashion an equalizer.
The match was the first for the USA since it bowed out of the 2022 FIFA World Cup. The team is being directed at its Southern California training camp by Anthony Hudson, an assistant coach under previous head coach Gregg Berhalter. Berhalter is out of contract and currently under investigation by U.S. Soccer over an incident of domestic violence he admitted to in the early 1990s.
Vazquez, Celentano and the U.S. close out the camp vs. Colombia Saturday at the LA Galaxy stadium.
GK: Gaga Slonina
D: Julian Gressel (DeJuan Jones 62), Walker Zimmerman (Aaron Long, 46), Jalen Neal, Jonathan Gomez
M: Paxton Pomykal (Kellyn Acosta 62), Alan Sonora (Eryk Williamson, 57), Aidan Morris
F: Cade Cowell (Paul Arriola 72), Alex Zendejas, Brandon Vazquez (Matthew Hoppe 62)
Unused Subs: Sean Johnson, Paxten Aaronson, Jesús Ferreira, Emmanuel Sabbi, John Tolkin, Sam Rogers