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New USMNT call-up Brandon Vazquez 'can't go wrong' as international tug-of-war with Mexico heats up and transfer rumors intensify

21:00 EAT 18/01/2023
Brandon Vazquez FC Cincinnati 2022
The striker, who was named in the USMNT squad on Wednesday, sat down with GOAL to discuss how much life has changed as a result of his breakout season

"It's been exciting, but at the same time it's been a lot." That's life these days for Brandon Vazquez, who has seen just about everything change in the space of a year.

Heading into the 2022 season, he was a young forward in search of his big break. Heading into the 2023 campaign, though, he's an MLS superstar linked with huge transfers and, to make things even crazier, the subject of a potential international tug-of-war that is only just getting started.

It's a lot to handle for the 24-year-old striker, who announced himself to the world in a big way last season and now looks set for his first U.S. men's national team cap as part of the annual January camp.

He scored 18 goals for FC Cincinnati last season, leading all Americans while finishing fourth in the MLS goalscoring charts. And in the months since that season ended, he's been the subject of endless rumors and speculations about his future, both at club and international level.

Stay in Cincinnati, go to Europe or make a massive move to Liga MX? Play for the U.S. or Mexico? What will he decide? All questions Vazquez has been asked, and all questions he knows he'll need to answer sooner rather than later.

"It could be a little overwhelming at times," he tells GOAL after he was called-up by the U.S. men's national team for the first time on Wednesday, "so I try to just cancel out all the buzz that's going on outside and just stay true to what I've been doing and not pay attention too much to rumors because they're just rumors.

"If it's something solid, then I'll know. I've been trying to just stay true to who I am and how I am."

If that's the approach Vazquez took into the 2022 season, he should stick with it. It's gotten him this far after all. The 24-year-old was MLS' biggest surprise last year, as a player that had previously been little more than a depth option suddenly became a superstar.

Prior to last season, he'd scored just nine goals in 72 MLS appearances, largely as a role player for Atlanta United and then FC Cincinnati. He hit that mark for the season by June in 2022.

Vazquez says he noticed a shift early in his season. In back-to-back games in March, he fired braces against Orlando City and Inter Miami, announcing his presence. He never really slowed down, as a combination of confidence, physicality and, ultimately, lots and lots of goals helped him become a breakout star.

"Everything just kind of lined up perfectly for me," he says. "It was a lot of fun."

The accolades soon followed. He was a Best XI selection and an MLS All-Star, instantly solidifying his place among the league's top strikers. But with accolades come attention and, ultimately, decisions.

He'll likely have decisions to make on the transfer front if reports are to be believed. Chivas, the club he and his family support, have reportedly submitted a massive bid for Vazquez, who signed a new contract with Cincy last summer.

Vazquez, whose parents are from Guadalajara, has previously been in Liga MX with Tijuana as a teenager, and he credits his time in Mexico with not just furthering his connection to his parent's homeland, but molding him as a player.

"Growing up, playing in Tijuana, I saw that hunger that players have to get out of difficult situations for their family, seeing that hunger that needs to be there to succeed," he says. "And also on the other side, playing on the U.S. National Team growing up and taking that ambition and that hunger and adapting to it and bringing it over to the U.S. and using it here. "

Given his goal tally, a return to Mexico may not be the only option if he does want to move on from Cincinnati at some point. Europe may eventually come calling if he does want to look east rather than south.

But the big decision of the moment is his international future. At least for now, it's with the U.S., the team he represented most often as a youth player. The upcoming camp, which includes friendlies against Serbia and Colombia, will allow him to make an early case for potential inclusion in the 2026 World Cup squad.

He's not writing off Mexico, though, even if they haven't yet formally contacted him. That's a decision for another day.

"For me, I try to do whatever is best for my career at the moment," he says. "It's hard to choose between both, but at the same time, I can't go wrong with either one. Both nations are one of the best in the world and I don't think I'll regret any decision I make with either, going with the U.S. or with Mexico.

"I have love for both and regardless of what decision I make, it won't change my feelings for the opposite one."

Still, this opportunity with the USMNT is one that Vazquez has been waiting for and, perhaps, one that is a bit overdue.

His goalscoring exploits saw him surge onto the USMNT radar last summer, making him a chance to be a surprise addition to the World Cup roster. With the U.S. struggling at the No.9 position, many wanted Vazquez to get the call, but it never came. His rise, unfortunately, was too little, too late.

Instead, Gregg Berhalter went with Josh Sargent, Haji Wright and Jesus Ferreira, all players that had been with the U.S. team before, instead of Vazquez, who hadn't.

“For us, it’s comparing him to what we have, comparing him to other guys and then the body of work both with his club and with us,” Berhalter said at the time. “And with us, it’s very difficult for him: He doesn’t have a body of work.”

It was a blow for Vazquez, who did have legitimate hopes of playing in Qatar. "I was hurt a little bit," he says. "I felt like I deserved an opportunity. And watching the World Cup, I have friends that play both on the US and Mexican national team, so I was watching supporting them both and deep down hoping, like wishing, that I had been there. But yeah, I think everything happens for a reason."

That reason may become apparent in the weeks and months to come. He'll be a vital piece for FC Cincinnati heading into into 2023, having helped lead the club to the playoffs last season. Playing ahead of superstar playmaker Luciano Acosta, Vazquez will now have to prove he's much more than a one-season-wonder, especially amid reports that the club could use another star striker, Brenner, to Europe.

And, on the national team front, he may very well become a key player for the U.S., who still have plenty of decisions to make at the striker position. With a new cycle comes a clean slate, and perhaps a new coach, so there's reason to believe that Vazquez could be a key player on the road to 2026.

Or maybe he won't be. Maybe his future lies with Mexico. Who knows? Vazquez himself doesn't, that's for sure.

This January is the start of a new year, and the first season of the new Brandon Vazquez. He's no longer that young striker looking to make it. More is expected of him now. More questions are coming.

But he's looking forward to answering them at some point, on his terms, as he now looks to prove himself in a different way after changing how the world sees him.

"Last year, it was getting the opportunity and running with it and trying to prove to everybody the kind of caliber of a player that I am," he says. "Then this year, there's a standard and expectation that people have for me and and I just want to keep growing as a player, keep getting better and better every year and improve."