USMNT puts young talent to test in 2-1 loss to Serbia


In their first game since the 2022 FIFA World Cup, the United States men’s national team squandered Brandon Vazquez’s first-half goal, giving up the lead and then losing 2-1 in a friendly against Serbia on Wednesday in Los Angeles.

Here are three quick thoughts on the match.

A disappointing result, if not a performance, for the US

Starting the 2026 World Cup cycle with a defeat is certainly not ideal. Even with most of the U.S. regulars busy with their European clubs and thus unavailable for this game or Saturday’s exhibition against Colombia, the U.S. had the more experienced team, playing at home and they were better than the visitors for most of the night. No Serbian goal should have happened; both came after stupid and avoidable mistakes by the Americans.

Still, the hosts’ actual play wasn’t too bad, especially considering interim head coach Anthony Hudson started just one of the five men on his squad who were part of the north- American team in Qatar 2022. Seven undrafted players were in Hudson’s lineup. , the most for the USMNT since 1988, and several stand out. (More on that below.)

“Overall, I was very pleased with the performance,” Hudson said. “I loved the fact that the players were really driving to go forward and attack.”

Americans will get a chance to redeem themselves almost immediately, with the Cafeteros in nearby Carson, California, in just three days.

Cowell, Slonina, Vázquez, Zendejas impress

Vázquez scored 19 goals in 35 MLS games (including the playoffs) last season. That made the 24-year-old the top American scorer in the league, beating Jesús Ferreira in one fell swoop. But unlike Ferreira, World Cup coach Gregg Berhalter didn’t bring Vázquez to Qatar or even call him up for a look before the tournament, a questionable decision then and even more so now with the benefit of retrospective

It took Vazquez less than 30 minutes to score his first international goal. She was also a beauty. Following a cross from fellow debutant Julian Gressel, the towering target striker skilfully curled his header into the far corner.

“It was an excellent header,” Hudson said. “I’m really, really happy for Brandon because obviously he’s had to be patient.”

The U.S. desperately needs reliable finalists between now and the next World Cup, which will be co-hosted by the U.S. along with U.S. neighbors Canada and Mexico. Other candidates are sure to emerge over the next three and a half years. With a superbly scored goal in the first game of the new cycle, Vázquez has already begun to make his case.

He wasn’t the only American to impress on Wednesday. Chelsea prospect Gaga Slonina made several key saves in goal and also became the youngest American goalkeeper in history, breaking 35-year-old Tony Meola’s record. Club America standout Alex Zendejas was as good as advertised. And winger Cade Cowell was arguably the most dangerous American forward of all, beating Serbian defender Djordje Petrovic twice, but not off the post, in the second half.

“He deserved a goal,” Hudson said of Cowell. “Tonight was another step forward for him.”

The focus returns to the field

There’s always a low-key feel to the USMNT’s annual January camp, with most of the player pool unavailable. This particular meeting to open the year is different, as it came after a full-blown scandal involving Berhalter and the parents of one of the program’s brightest prospects, Gio Reyna. On the eve of Wednesday’s contest, Hudson admitted the saga had weighed on the players, especially the five members of that squad that helped the USA reach the last 16 of the World Cup.

It was the only thing anyone wanted to talk about for weeks. The game against Serbia finally turned the conversation back to football. There is still no full-time coach, of course, with Berhalter’s possible return contingent on the outcome of an independent investigation into the matter. But for the first time since bursting into the public eye, the Berhalter-Reyna fiasco thankfully seemed mostly secondary on Wednesday. Despite the year-opening loss, the spotlight was back where it belonged.

Doug McIntyre is a football writer for FOX Sports. Before joining FOX Sports in 2021, he was a writer for ESPN and Yahoo Sports and has covered the US men’s and women’s national teams at multiple FIFA World Cups. Follow him on Twitter @By Doug McIntyre.

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