USMNT turn eye to next generation of talent as Brandon Vazquez, Cade Cowell stand out in Serbia loss

LOS ANGELES -- In the team's first game since the 2022 World Cup, the United States men's national team got an early goal from debutant Brandon Vazquez before conceding twice in a 2-1 loss to Serbia at BMO Stadium.

JUMP TO: Best/worst performers | Highlights & notable moments | Postgame quotes | Key stats | Upcoming fixtures

Rapid reaction

1. Heavy 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 XI. It represented a clear statement of intent from U.S. Soccer that the federation wants long-term commitments from each of them.

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Vazquez, Zendejas -- both making their first full national team caps -- and Cowell played together in a front three that was lively and consistently dangerous. Vazquez's goal on a cross from fellow debutant Julian Gressel was an excellent finish -- redirecting the ball to the far corner -- and leaves a positive first impression about his ability to play at the international level.

For all the attention Zendejas' inclusion drew coming in midseason 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 while he's still only 19 years old, this is a massive year in terms of solidifying what fair expectations for his development should be. If he's as dangerous for the Quakes as he was against Serbia, it's fair to reignite talks about a potential European transfer.

Gomez didn't find the same success as the other three. His physical limitations were on display and provided important context for why he has not made a first team appearance for Real Sociedad in LaLiga since transferring from Louisville City of the USLC in 2021.

2. Gabriel Slonina makes history

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

The youngster had a few nice moments -- including one sequence in which he was kicked in the head while pushing a ball off the line -- and wasn't really to blame for either of Serbia's goals. Though he's still a long way from seeing the field in England, Slonina certainly has the talent to someday develop into the U.S. No. 1. Is it possible by 2026? That seems like a stretch, but it's not outside the realm of possibility.

3. Typical vibe for a January game

If U.S. Soccer was hoping the excitement from the World Cup would translate to a better-than-usual January atmosphere, it would have left disappointed. BMO Stadium -- the new name for LAFC's home -- was about half-full and had the appropriate energy level for a glorified training exercise.

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

Seven starters made their national team debuts, which was 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 significant drop after Tyler Adams and Morris appears very much ready to compete for minutes behind him.

Best: Cade Cowell, USA

As mentioned above, Cowell was consistently impactful playing down the left wing. He didn't have a goal or assist to show for it, but it felt inevitable every time he got the ball he was going to blow by the defender marking him and get the ball into a good spot.

Best: Veljko Simic, Serbia

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

Worst: Marko Mijailovic, Serbia

Cowell had his way with Mijailovic throughout the night.

Worst: Jonathan Gomez, USA

Gomez showed he's not ready to be considered for minutes in official competitions.

Worst: Jalen Neal, USA

Neal had some bright moments but got caught of position a few times and wasn't strong in possession.

Highlights and notable moments

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

Serbia's goals at either side of halftime gave them the lead and the win against the USMNT.

After the match: What the managers and players said

USMNT coach Anthony Hudson on Alejandro Zendejas: "Incredible. 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's been in a few days and -- you saw him tonight -- you see his personality on the field. He's a really, really exciting player. Good quality. Technically really, really strong. Really attack-minded. I just love his desire just to keep going and keep going."

Walker Zimmerman on starting in Qatar vs. this friendly: "I told the guys in the huddle before the game, anytime we put on this jersey, we don't care if it's a World Cup game or if it's a January camp game. You put on that jersey, it's the pride that you have to try to 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's a week or two into getting back into it. Whereas in 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 that they've had. From that standpoint, it makes it difficult. It makes it difficult for the rotations, the fitness standpoint and then the understanding."

Brandon Vazquez on scoring in his debut: "Making my debut tonight and scoring on my debut with my family here close to where I grew up, it's something incredible. Seeing my family celebrate like that and it's something amazing to see."

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

  • Vazquez becomes the 59th USMNT player to score in his debut

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

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

Up next

U.S.: The Americans have one more friendly attached this camp against Colombia on Saturday, Jan. 28 at 7:30 p.m. ET in nearby Carson, California.

Serbia: For now, Serbia's next matches on the calendar are not until March for the qualifying tournament for the Euros, against Lithuania and Montenegro.