The USA men’s national soccer team has ended in the headlines since the World Cup round with a defeat against the Netherlands. And a checkered week in the federation’s front office ended without a win in the side’s first two games since Qatar.
A squad made up mostly of youngsters and MLS players played in a goalless draw against Colombia in a friendly near Los Angeles on Saturday. It wasn’t a game lacking in end-to-end action as Los Cafeteros were more than ready to go into the break, but there was little bottom line on either side.
The draw, three days after a defeat by Serbia, is a backdrop to the uncertainty surrounding the future of the USMNT, particularly its leadership.
Manager Gregg Berhalter’s contract was due to expire at the end of 2022. The ongoing saga surrounding young star Gio Reyna and his family only clouded this upcoming decision and no official decision has been announced regarding his future with the team. Meanwhile, Brian McBride, general manager of US soccer, and Earnie Stewart, athletic director, both resigned from their posts at the helm of the association.
Saturday’s team bore little resemblance to any of the US teams in Qatar (Walker Zimmerman and Jesus Ferreira were the only starters from that roster to appear in that camp). The group of largely inexperienced players showed some flashes. Debutants Paxten Aaronson and John Tolkin both had moments when they proved their worth. However, the performance as a whole was about what you would expect from a January friendly where a group of players are still trying to prove themselves at this level.
Here are three thoughts after USA’s 0-0 draw with Colombia.
Vazquez and Ferreira can’t take a chance in 9th place
The search for the future No. 9 would never be completed in a January test match, but Saturday didn’t bring much clarity to the situation.
Jesus Ferreira got the start against the country where he was born. The 22-year-old, who started two World Cup games, was calm early on. He played the build up pretty well and his movement was solid. Ferreira played a key role in one of America’s best scoring chances when he slotted a perfect through ball to Matthew Hoppe in the 32nd minute. But he squandered two chances on goal where he just didn’t get the shot in time.
“He’s a player who really understands how we want to play. He’s a good player. He’s still very young,” said interim manager Anthony Hudson after Ferreira’s game. “We saw some really good signs from him tonight.”
In came Brandon Vazquez. The FC Cincinnati forward scored the only goal for the USA with a well-placed header at the far post on his international debut on Wednesday. He had a wonderful chance in extra time against Colombia to put the Americans ahead but missed the curled ball in the box.
Vazquez’s performance in his first cap certainly put his name in the hat to fill that ever-present hole as a striker. But no one performed those duties particularly well in Saturday’s matchup.
The next Aaronson is coming
Brenden Aaronson has gradually worked his way up among USMNT forwards in recent years, eventually earning a move to Premier League side Leeds United and a key reserve role for USA at the World Cup. Now there’s another Aaronson in the mix.
Brenden’s 19-year-old brother Paxten made his USMNT debut Saturday night, displaying the same kind of flair and confidence that made the elder Aaronson so successful. Paxten was creative on the ball and aggressive in transition. He’s been caught in possession a couple of times but that’s to be expected from a young player learning his role in midfield.
“We watched him for a while,” Hudson said. “Paxten is someone who is a young player with high potential. He has a lot of quality. He’s a bright young player.
“It was a tough game. It was a very physical game. It was a game with many transitional moments. Especially in midfield you need physicality when making changes… he never gave up. He kept going and had some really good moments.”
Paxten recently made the leap to Europe, joining Bundesliga side Eintracht Frankfurt in January. He is a year younger than Brenden when he joined Austrian club RB Salzburg in 2021. It was just a 90-minute blitz, but USA could have another tricky, forward-thinking playmaker going forward.
Hudson was pushed into a difficult situation, but he had the advantage of not being under pressure in his first two games in charge. The results of these games are far less meaningful than the individual accomplishments of these younger players trying to earn a recall to future camps. Mistakes are bound to happen, and the USA conceded two goals against Serbia. They would have liked at least one win against two sides that also fielded essentially a ‘B’ team, but the friendlies gave some uncapped players valuable experience on the pitch.
Where things go from here is unclear, however. Whether Berhalter could somehow remain at the helm is still unclear: USSF President Cindy Parlow Cone said he “remains a candidate” to return to his position. Whichever direction the association takes (for all three positions available), this will be a time of transition at a turning point in the future of the USMNT. The team essentially sent an under-23 squad to the World Cup and performed well. It’s entering a new cycle with lots of young talent playing for big teams in leagues around the world. Then, in four years’ time, there will be the Home World Championship, which will be perhaps the most important men’s tournament in the history of the sport in this country.
Numerous names are associated with manager opening, depending on who you believe. The US men have only had one non-American manager since 1995: Jürgen Klinsmann, who led the team to the 2014 World Cup round of 16.
The friendlies are over for the time being. The next time this group gets together it will be for two Concacaf Nations League games in March. Whoever ends up on the sidelines for these games and beyond, the USSF needs to get the months right.