The end of the road for Aaron Long? USMNT winners and losers as veteran defender struggles before Jesus Ferreira steps up in frustrating Mexico draw

Aaron Long USMNT 2023
Getty Images
The La Galaxy defender's error led to El Tri taking the lead on Wednesday, and it remains to be seen if he has a future at international level

We'll start with a disclaimer: this match was one to forget. Not much can truly be learned from the U.S. men's national team's 1-1 draw with Mexico because of the circumstances. They were unusual, to say the least.

Two less-than-full strength teams in a midweek friendly sandwiched between league matches? There's only so much you can truly take away from something like that.

Wednesday's match was, by and large, a meandering, disjointed, forgettable affair between two teams that have bigger clashes on the horizon. Still, this was a night for players on the fringes to make their mark, even if few did.

There were some standouts, though, for the USMNT, as several players a bit further down the depth chart put in strong performances. Others, meanwhile, faltered, calling into question where they'll stand heading into a summer that includes both the Gold Cup and Nations League.

We'll learn more from those two tournaments than we will from this night, that's for sure. Even so, look at this draw as a little taste of what's to come for a USMNT still sorting out its player pool so early in the World Cup cycle.

  1. WINNER: Jesus Ferreira
    Getty Images

    WINNER: Jesus Ferreira

    The best part of being an attacking player: all it takes is one good moment.

    That's exactly what Ferreira provided on Wednesday night: just the one. He was largely poor and could have been a candidate to be named among this one's losers given his impact, or lack thereof, through 80 minutes or so.

    But goals change games, right? Well, they also change opinions.

    Ferreira definitely didn't have a good game, but there does need to be context to it all. Starting as a second striker, the FC Dallas star was given a new assignment. By the second half, he was back up top and, in the 81st minute, he was able to tap home Jordan Morris' cross for the equalizer.

    Ferreira is still in the striker race, although it is quite crowded at this point. It remains to be seen if he even projects as a striker at the international level, given his skillset as more of a facilitator.

    But none of that really matters for now. On Wednesday, Ferreira got his goal, his one good moment, to make something of a good impression.

  2. LOSER: Aaron Long

    LOSER: Aaron Long

    Post-World Cup, Long very much finds himself on the fringes, and players on the fringes can't make mistakes like he did for Mexico's goal.

    To be fair, the mistake wasn't his alone. Kellyn Acosta put him in a bad spot with his ill-advised backpass, for sure. Still, Long did little to rectify situation as his touch played in Uriel Antuna for Mexico's opener.

    The LAFC defender already finds himself a bit further down the depth chart, having been a key part of last cycle. He's just 30, so it isn't out of the question to see him stick around this cycle, although it will be difficult given some of the rising stars in the pool.

    With so many established players ahead of him and a few younger stars coming up behind him, Long's place with the national team is far from secure, and he surely didn't help his case in this one.

  3. WINNER: Alan Sonora & Aiden Morris

    WINNER: Alan Sonora & Aiden Morris

    Anthony Hudson admitted that his tactical tweaks weren't preplanned. Rather, they were an adjustment to the game that was unfolding in front of him.

    Hudson, though, got those tweaks right, with the two midfielders he tossed into the fray helping to steady the game.

    Thrown on shortly after Mexico's goal, Sonora and Morris entered the match as the U.S. shifted to a five-man defense. From that point on, by and large, the U.S. looked better, with the midfielders getting some credit for that.

    Sonora was the standout of the two, with his magnificent pass setting up Jordan Morris to, eventually, set up Ferreira. The Juarez star is a more creative player than many midfielders in the pool and, in a game like this, he offers something of a spark off the bench that few others can.

    Morris, meanwhile, was hailed as "fantastic" by Hudson. He's been spectacular in MLS with the Columbus Crew and, although he didn't look as confident as he has at the club level, he showed some signs of why he could play a part this cycle.

    Both have a long way to go and both need more looks, but a positive performance from the two supersubs.

  4. LOSER: Brandon Vazquez
    Getty Images

    LOSER: Brandon Vazquez

    All week, it felt like this could have been Brandon Vazquez's big coming out party with the USMNT.

    It certainly was set up to be. Facing off with Mexico, the country he was eligible to represent, Vazquez started up top with a chance to continue to make his case in the striker race.

    It didn't happen. In fact, not much of anything happened.

    Limited to just 15 touches, Vazquez was largely a passenger in this one. The FC Cincinnati star simply couldn't get into the game, through little fault of his own, it must be said. With the U.S. as a whole struggling, their striker had so little to do before being hooked in the second half.

    Unfortunate for Vazquez, for sure. Brighter days may be ahead for the striker, but this had so much potential to be one of the brightest so far before it all went wrong.

  5. WINNER: James Sands
    Crédito: Getty

    WINNER: James Sands

    Sands needed a big game, and he sure provided one.

    Likely the USMNT's best performer on the day, Sands shined as a midfielder and as a defender, showcasing once again what he brings to this USMNT group.

    His versatility is, at times, what holds him back from taking the leap at one position or another but, at the national team level, having a player that can do what Sands can do is so, so useful.

    As a midfielder, he won the ball and played it forward, outplaying Acosta next to him. And then, in the second half, he dropped a bit deeper and continued to stand out.

    His return to MLS with NYCFC will be good for him as he continues to grow at just 22 years old. He's still a player that's somewhat on the fringes but, with a busy summer looming, it looks like Sands should play a big part in at least one competition.

  6. LOSER: The young stars

    LOSER: The young stars

    It was always going to be a fine balance, and it was always going to be tough for the newcomers given the short runway between arrival and kickoff.

    Still, it would have been nice to see something from the more inexperienced players in this group.

    The starting XI was loaded with World Cup veterans, although young star Cade Cowell was given his chance. He was largely ineffective before getting hooked in the second half, and it may have been nice to see him stay on to continue to problem-solve his way through that scenario.

    As for the two uncapped field players, Caleb Wiley and Josh Wynder, only the former got on for a brief debut in the game's final moments. Yes, it was important to give Sergino Dest minutes, even if they came at left-back, but throwing Wiley into the fray would have been a good way to see if he could sink or swim.

    Wynder's lack of minutes, meanwhile, is somewhat excusable, given how large the gap is from USL to USMNT. Even so, would it have hurt to give him the opportunity?

    For Wiley, a memorable night. For Cowell, something slightly less. For Wynder, an all-too-brief taste of the national team. It could have been something larger for all three, though.