There’s been no shortage of headlines for the United States men’s national soccer team since its World Cup run ended with a defeat to the Netherlands. And a week of turnover in the federation’s front office ended winless on the pitch in the team’s first two matches since Qatar.
A squad comprised primarily of young and MLS-based players played Colombia to a goalless draw in a friendly near Los Angeles on Saturday. It wasn’t a match that lacked end-to-end action, as Los Cafeteros were more than willing to get out on the break, but there was little end product on both sides.
The draw, three days after a loss to Serbia, is a backdrop for the uncertainty that surrounds the future of the USMNT, specifically in its leadership.
Manager Gregg Berhalter’s contract was set to run out at the end of 2022. The ongoing saga involving young star Gio Reyna and his family only muddied the waters of that looming decision, and no official resolution has been announced on his future with the team. In the meantime, U.S. Soccer general manager Brian McBride and sporting director Earnie Stewart both stepped down from their perches atop the federation.
Saturday’s team bared little resemblance to any that the U.S. fielded in Qatar (Walker Zimmerman and Jesus Ferreira were the only starters from that squad to feature in this camp). The group of largely inexperienced players showed some flashes. Debutants Paxten Aaronson and John Tolkin both had moments where they showed their value. The performance as a whole, however, was about what was expected from a January friendly with a group of players still trying to prove themselves at this level.
Here are three thoughts after the U.S.’s 0–0 draw with Colombia.
Vazquez and Ferreira can’t capture chance at No. 9
The search for the No. 9 of the future was never going to be completed in a January friendly, but Saturday didn’t add much clarity to the situation.
Jesus Ferreira got the start against the country in which he was born. The 22-year-old who started two World Cup matches was quiet early. He played fairly well in the buildup, and his movement was solid. Ferreira played a key role in one of the U.S.’s best chances on goal when he slid a perfect through ball to Matthew Hoppe in the 32nd minute. But he was wasteful with a pair of opportunities in front of goal in which he simply didn’t get the shot off in time.
“He’s a player that really understands how we want to play. He’s a good player. He’s still very young,” interim manager Anthony Hudson said postgame of Ferreira. “Tonight, we saw some really good signs from him.”
In came Brandon Vazquez. The FC Cincinnati striker scored the lone goal for the U.S. in his national team debut on Wednesday with a well-placed flicked header to the back post. He had a wonderful chance to give the Americans the lead against Colombia in extra time, but couldn’t get his foot on the curled ball in the box.
Vazquez’s performance in his first cap certainly entered his name into the hat for to fill that ever-present hole at striker. But nobody fulfilled those duties particularly well in Saturday’s matchup.
The next Aaronson arrives
Brenden Aaronson gradually made his way up the ranks among USMNT forwards over the last several years, eventually earning a move to Premier League side Leeds United and a key reserve role for the U.S. 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 and showed the same kind of flair and confidence that has made the more senior Aaronson so successful. Paxten was creative on the ball and aggressive in transition. He was caught in possession a few times, but that’s expected from a young player learning his role in a midfield.
“We’ve monitored him for a while,” Hudson said. “Paxten’s someone that he’s a high-potential young player. 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 of a lot of transition moments. Especially in the midfield in transition, you need physicality ... he never gave up. He kept going, and he had some really good moments.”
Paxten recently made the leap to Europe, moving to the German Bundesliga’s Eintracht Frankfurt in January. He’s a year younger than Brenden was when he moved to Austrian club RB Salzburg in 2021. It was but a 90-minute flash, but the U.S. could have another tricky, forward-thinking playmaker on its hands in the future.
Hudson was thrust into a difficult situation, but he had the benefit of a lack of pressure in his first two matches in charge. The results of these fixtures are far less significant than the individual performances of these younger players trying to earn a call back to future camps. Mistakes are bound to happen, and that’s where the U.S. gave up a pair of goals against Serbia. They would’ve like to at least grab a win against two sides that were also fielding what was essentially a “B” team, but the friendlies gave valuable on-pitch experience to some uncapped players.
Where things go from here, however, is unclear. It’s still unknown whether Berhalter could, somehow, remain at the helm: USSF president Cindy Parlow Cone said that he “remains a candidate” to return to his position. No matter what direction the federation takes (for all three available positions), this becomes a time of transition in an inflection point in the USMNT’s future. The team essentially sent an under-23 squad to the World Cup and performed well. It enters a new cycle with loads of young talent playing for big teams in leagues around the world. Then looming in four years is the home World Cup, which will be perhaps the most important men’s tournament in the history of the sport in this country.
Numerous names are connected with the managerial opening, depending on who you believe. The U.S. men have had just one non-American manager since 1995: Jurgen Klinsmann, who led the team to the World Cup knockout stage in 2014.
The friendlies are over for the time being. The next time this group convenes, it will be for a pair of Concacaf Nations League matches in March. Whoever ends up on the touch line for those games and beyond, the USSF must get the coming months right.