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Winners & Losers

Here comes the USMNT's next generation! Winners, losers and ratings as Cowell and Vazquez shine despite Serbia friendly defeat

1:50 PM MYT 26/01/2023
Cade Cowell dribble USMNT Serbia friendly 2023
The U.S. lost Wednesday night's friendly against Serbia, but there will be plenty to be happy about as several players took impressive leaps forward.

The U.S. men's national team's match against Serbia was, by and large, exactly what one would expect from a January camp outing right after a World Cup. It was sloppy, disjointed and chaotic. It also featured a whole bunch of new players, with a few making the kinds of mistakes that new players make.

But it also included some incredibly promising performances from a few potential USMNT stars who are just beginning their international careers.

Brandon Vazquez produced the USMNT's lone goal in the 2-1 defeat, with Luka Ilic and Veljko Simic providing the scoring for the visitors. Like the USMNT, Serbia showed up in Los Angeles with a young, inexperienced squad, but it avoided the range of errors that cost the Stars and Stripes to seal the victory.

Despite the mistakes, this will go down as a positive night for the USMNT. A total of eight players made their international debut, including the potential goalkeeper and striker of the future. A few others, most notably Cade Cowell, proved to be entirely different players than the ones we've seen before in a USMNT shirt.

January camp, in many ways, is about finding those players and giving them the nurturing they need to join the A-team. On Wednesday, a few players showed that they're ready for that leap and, with that in mind, Wednesday night was a win for the USMNT, even if the scoreboard said it wasn't.

  • Brandon Vazquez USMNT Serbia friendly 2023

    The Winners

    Cade Cowell:

    Get your Cade Cowell stock while you can because it's only going up from here.

    The San Jose Earthquakes star was absolutely electric and was far and away the USMNT's best player. He deserved a goal or two, and could have had a few if not for the post.

    Everything to like about Cowell was on full display: his speed, his timing, his decisiveness. The Quakes attacker is just so unbelievably dynamic. It's no wonder big clubs have been interested.

    The 19-year-old has shown some glimpses of the spectacular throughout his career so far. Could this be the year that those glimpses become a bit more common? If this match was any indication, 2023 might just belong to him.

    Brandon Vazquez:

    The FC Cincinnati star got his goal. It was a picture-perfect header that effectively announced himself as the latest entrant to the USMNT's No. 9 competition.

    He didn't do much else, to be fair, but that doesn't matter much. For years, the USMNT has watched strikers do all of the little things besides score. To have a player do the opposite is a welcome change.

    There were concerns that Vazquez, fresh off an 18-goal season that came from out of nowhere, could be a one-season wonder, but this game showed why he likely won't be. The Cincy striker is a legitimate, professional finisher, who finds spaces to do the most important thing: put the ball in the back of the net.

    The debate will rage on when it comes to whether or not he should have been in Qatar. It doesn't really matter now, but what does is that Vazquez has shown why he may have a part to play for the U.S. on the road to 2026.

    Gabriel Slonina:

    The first of what will likely be many. Gabriel Slonina will remember this one for the rest of his life.

    It was the night when he became the youngest-ever USMNT goalkeeper, surpassing the legendary Tony Meola to seal that honor. And he wasn't a bystander, making several big saves in the first half.

    His spectacular last-gasp save midway through the first half left him a little worse for wear, but the Chelsea goalkeeper finished it out. There wasn't much he could have done on either goal, but he'd done enough early on to make this night a positive one.

    Slonina is still a work in progress, as most players are at 18. He's on his way, though, and could go from USMNT Goalkeeper of the Future to USMNT Goalkeeper of the Present sooner rather than later.

  • Jalen Neal USMNT Serbia friendly 2023

    The Losers

    Jalen Neal:

    Harsh to have him here, but it gets harsh at the senior level.

    This was Neal's first real appearance at this level, as he made his USMNT debut before making his MLS debut with the LA Galaxy. And, for about 45 minutes, he looked so comfortable and so composed. The common thought was "How have the Galaxy not used this guy yet?"

    And then, moments into the second half, came the youthful mistake. There were actually a few of them in the run-up to Serbia's second goal, all caused by a bit of indecisiveness. For the first time all night, Neal looked like a youth player playing with the big boys.

    It's important to remember that that's exactly what Neal is at this point: a youth player. As a 19-year-old center back, he still has a lot of learning to do. This game was one that provided a lesson or two that will almost certainly make him better for the next time around.

    Mexico:

    Fans of El Tri won't have been happy seeing the USMNT's XI.

    That XI featured four dual-national players, all either eligible, or in one case, have played, for Mexico. Cowell, Jonathan Gomez, Brandon Vazquez and Alejandro Zendejas all could be representing El Tri right now. Instead, they are set to become key pieces for their northern neighbors.

    Cowell and Vazquez were the best of the bunch, although both Zendejas and Gomez were solid as well. It's Zendejas, in particular, who will bother Mexico the most, as his controversial history with El Tri makes his recent surge with Club America all the more frustrating.

    It remains to be seen what the future looks like for all four, who have not played an official match and are thus still able to change their minds. On Wednesday, though, Mexico got a closer look at several key dual nationals that may have already slipped away.

  • Walker Zimmermann USMNT Serbia friendly 2023

    USMNT Ratings: Defense

    Gabriel Slonina (7/10):

    Several absolutely fantastic saves early on. Nothing he could do on either goal. A promising debut.

    Jonathan Gomez (6/10):

    Worked well with Cowell and created some chaos on that side.

    Walker Zimmerman (5/10):

    A fairly casual 45-minute run-out. Could have done better in the wall on the free-kick goal.

    Jalen Neal (5/10):

    Great first half, disastrous mistake in the second. Recovered well, but, as a defender, mistakes simply mean more.

    Julian Gressel (7/10):

    What an assist. You know you get that kind of service with Gressel, and his assist to Vazquez was a perfect example of what he offers from the wide position.

  • Aidan Morris USMNT Serbia friendly 2023

    Midfield

    Alan Sonora (6/10):

    A few good moments, most notably a fantastic ball to play Cowell through. Currently unattached, so interesting to see what comes next.

    Aiden Morris (6/10):

    A performance that will divide opinion. Some good moments on the ball, a step slow off of it and also a bit selfish on a first-half chance.

    Paxton Pomykal (6/10):

    Pretty quiet. A feel-good story, but didn't show much to indicate he should have a bigger role.

  • Zendejas USMNT Serbia friendly 2023

    Attack

    Alejandro Zendejas (7/10):

    No real highlights, but a good show of what he brings. Just so, so smooth on the ball, even if he didn't quite turn that into anything too dangerous.

    Brandon Vazquez (7/10):

    Got his goal, but not much other than that. A successful debut, though, for a player that could be in the mix with the main team.

    Cade Cowell (8/10):

    Absolutely electric. Probably deserved a goal or three and, on another night, would have had them. The clear MOTM.

  • Anthony Hudson USMNT Serbia friendly 2023

    Subs & Manager

    Aaron Long (6/10):

    Replaced Zimmerman at the half and the USMNT immediately conceded. Nowhere near his fault, though, as the World Cup veteran was solid enough.

    Eryk Williamson (6/10):

    Added a bit to the midfielder after coming on. Deserves more minutes to show why he could be an answer at the 8 position.

    Matthew Hoppe (5/10):

    Came on at striker, but barely did anything. Really needs to be playing at the club level.

    DeJuan Jones (6/10):

    Deserves a longer runout to show why he could be an answer at full back.

    Kellyn Acosta (6/10):

    You know what you get from the LAFC star, who was his typical self on dead-ball situations.

    Paul Arriola (6/10):

    Had one good chance, but deserves credit for his maturity. Few can deal with the disappointment of missing a World Cup, and few would have the strength to rejoin the team just two months later.

    Anthony Hudson (7/10):

    Did what he had to do. Put the young guys on the field, added some veteran spice, and let them learn. Interesting to see what rotation he goes for in the Colombia game.