CARSON, Calif. -- The United States men's national team earned a 0-0 draw with Colombia in the second of two January friendlies for the home side, as both teams fielded relatively inexperienced sides.
Colombia had the edge in shots 12-5, but shots on goal were 2-1 in favor of the home side. And it was the U.S. that had the better chances with Paxten Aaronson, in his USMNT debut, going close in the first half. Sean Johnson was the slightly busier of the two keepers, but overall had little to do on the night.
1. U.S. earns draw in a very un-January friendly
Friendlies that cap off the January camp are often tepid affairs. The U.S. players are in preseason mode, and the lack of sharpness outweighs most of the positives. There is also the relative lack of experience on show. While the U.S. featured World Cup participants Walker Zimmerman, Kellyn Acosta, Jesus Ferreira and Aaron Long, as well as veteran Paul Arriola, some of the other players were making their initial forays at the international level.
That went for Colombia as well. Aside from left back Frank Fabra, no Colombian starter had more than three caps. But this encounter had some spice to it, helped in no small part by the heavily pro-Colombia crowd. There was plenty of end-to-end play and some clear looks at goal in the opening half, including a deflected effort from Paxten Aaronson in the 14th minute that grazed the post.
LAFC's Cristian Arango had some clear opportunities as well, but failed to get a shot on target. Such was the chaotic nature of the game that the performers on show seemed to alternate good plays with poor ones, often in the same sequence. Matthew Hoppe was a case in point. The Middlesbrough winger was indefatigable in terms of his defensive pressure, and consistently put himself in good positions with his runs off the ball. But his decision-making on the ball looked rusty, a product of the lack of playing time with his club.
There was some physical play as well, with a trio of first-half yellow cards dished out by referee Said Martinez, all to Colombia. Two were the result of attacking runs by Arriola that forced the Cafeteros into fouls near the box. The frenetic pace cooled a bit in the second half, with interim manager Anthony Hudson feeling confident enough to finish out the match with two young center backs in Jalen Neal and Sam Rogers. Substitute Brandon Vazquez nearly got on the end of a Kellyn Acosta free kick late, but couldn't connect, leaving both teams to settle for a draw.
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2. Another Aaronson makes a positive impression
Interim manager Anthony Hudson had said he would heavily rotate his squad from the team that fell 2-1 to Serbia, and he was true to his word, making 10 changes to the lineup that started against Serbia, with Zimmerman the only holdover. That meant another pair of international debuts, this time for Paxten Aaronson -- brother of Leeds United and U.S. international midfielder Brenden Aaronson -- and New York Red Bulls defender John Tolkin.
Aaronson -- who signed with Eintracht Frankfurt from the Philadelphia Union in November -- was up for the challenge and showed off many of the same qualities as his older brother. He was an absolute pest on defense, was active in seeking out the ball and showed off some lightning-quick feet. He nearly got onto the scoresheet in the 14th minute when his deflected effort grazed the post.
His performance wasn't completely free of struggle. One area where Aaronson needs to improve is simply to sense danger with his back to his opponent. He was dispossessed four times in the first half, a problem that can be solved by simply playing quicker.
Fellow debutant Tolkin struggled with some physical battles as well, but adapted as the game went on. The quality of his left foot isn't in question. But games like this are about the future. These players just starting their international careers don't need to produce for the U.S. next week or even in March, when the first choice players will convene for the first time since the World Cup. Yet players have to start somewhere, and this was a needed first step.
3. Did anyone earn a spot for the March window?
Across the two games, 12 players made debuts (the most ever in these January camps), with Vazquez doing the most to help himself. The U.S. goal scorer against Serbia came on as a substitute in this match and while he didn't score, the FC Cincinnati man provides a physical presence that few others in the pool can match. Combine that with his finishing touch, and he is a player who could force his way in.
Alejandro Zendejas, who returned to Club America after the Serbia match, should also get an extended look given his dynamism on the wing and his precision in terms of end product. Of course, with Zendejas the question is if he's called up for an official competition, will he commit or file that one-time switch to Mexico? That remains to be seen.
Credit is due to Cade Cowell as well. He was an unused sub on this night, but showed plenty of potential against Serbia. The key now is can he replicate that performance at club level with the San Jose Earthquakes?
Otherwise, it feels as though the rest of the young performers in this camp are still a ways away from threatening to break through. That said, for many of them, time is on their side.
Best, worst (and mixed-bag) performers
Best: Paul Arriola, U.S.
It's perhaps no surprise that one of the more experienced players on the field would fare well (he earned his 50th cap), but the FC Dallas man was a menacing presence on the flank and forced two different Colombian players to commit yellow card fouls.
Best: Diego Valoyes, Colombia
The Colombia attacker gave Tolkin all he could handle, especially in the first half. He also created a team-high three chances.
Best: Paxten Aaronson, U.S.
Aaronson's had more positives than negatives in his international debut, and adjusted his game in the second half.
Worst: Frank Fabra, Colombia
The U.S. found plenty of success down his side, with Arriola forcing a yellow card foul. Fabra struggled on the ball as well, completing just 67.5% of his passes.
Mixed bag: Matthew Hoppe, U.S.
A "worst" label would have been too harsh considering the positions he put himself in, but his decision-making and touch let him down at times. He is in desperate need of games at club level.
Highlights and notable moments
Paxten Aaronson was one of the players who stood out for the USMNT, as evidenced in this early scoring chance against Colombia.
Pax getting involved early 👀— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) January 29, 2023
📺 TNT pic.twitter.com/Jx73aGnJ6V
With more playing time and experience, he can be expected to put these into the net.
After the match: What the managers and players said
U.S. interim coach Anthony Hudson, on Paxten Aaronson's debut: "Paxten is a really exciting player, hugely confident. He came in a day or two late but you can see his quality. We don't know what his level will be, but we believe in his talent and will see what he can do."
USMNT keeper Sean Johnson, on the camp: "It's a great group of players, and that speaks to the depth of our player group. ... There's good times ahead for us. We would have loved to win, and we had our chances, but it was solid all around. As a group, I feel like this camp was a step forward.''
Hudson, on whether he'll continue as interim coach: "Until I'm told otherwise, I'm going to do my best for the team and the players."
U.S.: With no games until the March matches against Grenada and El Salvador as part of their Nations League title defense, expect all the action to be off the field as the speculation mounts during the coaching and general manager search.
Colombia: No planned games on the calendar so far.