Brandon Vazquez scored in his international debut for the USA. (Photo courtesy of MLS)
By Michael Lewis
Don’t worry or panic, folks.
This certainly won’t be the U.S. men’s national team that will line up for the 2026 World Cup or for the Concacaf Nations League matches in March.
The U.S. men’s national team that was deployed in the first match of the year certainly has some to learn about defending at the international level.
Two mistakes allowed Serbia, an equally inexperienced team, to score goals en route to 2-1 victory in a friendly at BMO Stadium in Los Angeles on Wednesday night.
This young American team lived and learned – the hard way.
How young was this side?
The Starting XI had an average age of 23 years, 18 days and averaged four caps apiece.
Nine starters were 24 or younger: Alan Sonora, Brandon Vazquez and Alex Zendejas (24); Paxton Pomykal (23); Aidan Morris (21), Cade Cowell, Jonathan Gómez and Jalen Neal (19); Gaga Slonina (18).
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 Jan. 10, 1988.
And at 18 years, 255 days, Slonina became the youngest goalkeeper to play for the USMNT, besting Tony Meola who made his debut at 19 years, 106 days on June 7, 1988 vs. Ecuador.
That’s how young the squad was.
. @Brvndonv becomes the 59th #USMNT player to score in his debut 🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/TbP0ay82DS
— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) January 26, 2023
Actually, Slonina acquitted himself well, making three saves, and couldn’t be blamed for the goals.
But the defense can be.
“Overall I was really pleased with the performance,” USMNT interim head coach Anthony Hudson said. “Individually there were some really, really big performances. I thought we showed a lot of bravery. Very attack-minded. I love the fact that players were really driving to get forward.
“I’m disappointed obviously with the result. But the way they want about the game was [positive].”
The Americans drew first blood in the 29th minute as a pair of players making their international debut teamed on the goal. Right back Julian Gressel sent a cross into the box to Brandon Vasquez. While he was running away from the play, the FC Cincinnati striker managed to get a solid flick on the ball and headed it past goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic from eight yards.
After Paxton Pomykal was called for fouling Dejan Joveljic some 20 yards out on the left side. Luka Ilic made the USA pay as the Americans allowed his rather ordinary free kick to go through the defensive wall and into the lower left corner for a 1-1 tie in the 42nd minute.
About 45 seconds into the second half, another defensive error led to another Serbian score.
A long ball from defender Marko Mijailovic after Serbia won a U.S. goal kick got away from the American back line, took a bounce. Defender Jalen Neal hesitated for a second or two and Simic swooped in to the win the ball and glide behind the U.S. defense. He slotted his shot past Slonina from 13 yards into the left corner for a 2-1 lead.
The most frustrated player on the field?
Easy – that was San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Cade Cowell, who hit the right post and then the left side in the 56th minute.
Cowell had two other decent chances, firing shots wide right in the 19th and 59th minutes.
Cowell’s near misses did not diminish his performance, according to Hudson.
“Cade, wow, what a performance. I’m so proud of him,” he said. “He was just outstanding today. Really direct, aggressive, brave — I’ve seen him have some amazing moments, I think tonight was another level.”
The Serbians managed to hold off the USA in some eight minutes of stoppage time.
The USMNT will get another test on Saturday when it hosts Colombia in another friendly slightly down the road in Carson, Calif. against Colombia.