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Defensive miscues cost USMNT in loss to Serbia

The U.S. men’s national team claimed a first-half lead in its first match of 2023, but conceded two sloppy goals in an eventual friendly loss to visiting Serbia.

Luka Ilici and Veljko Simic scored for the Serbians to cancel out Brandon Vazquez’s first international goal in 2-1 triumph at Banc of California Stadium. A total of eight American players made their senior international debuts, including Vazquez, Julian Gressel, and Gabriel Slonina.

The result marked the USMNT’s first home defeat since September 2019 in all competitions.

After streaky periods from both teams in the early going, the USMNT broke the deadlock in the 28th minute. Gressel’s dangerous cross from the right wing was headed home by Vazquez in the box for his first international goal.

Vazquez’s flicked header landed into the bottom-left corner, leaving Serbia goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic to watch the FC Cincinnati forward celebrate with his teammates.

Slonina kept the Americans in front not long after the restart, denying Simic’s shot in the box before also keeping the rebound off the line.

Serbia continued to up its pressure before halftime and benefitted from a USMNT breakdown to tie things up. Luka Ilic’s free-kick in the 44th minute snuck through the Americans defensive wall and beat Slonina to the bottom-left corner.

The Serbs picked up where they left off in the second half as Dragan Stojkovic’s squad grabbed a 2-1 lead through Simic’s finish. The 27-year-old captain was played into the box after the USMNT lost possession, before slotting home his first international goal.

Cade Cowell looked the most likeliest to find an equalizer for the USMNT, calling his own number in the 56th minute. However, both posts on Dragan Rosic’s net denied the San Jose Earthquakes forward, first on Cowell’s flicked effort before his later attempt in the half.

DeJuan Jones, Matthew Hoppe, and Paul Arriola were among six second-half substitutions for the USMNT as the Americans tried to find a tying goal. Arriola was denied twice by Rosic in the 74th and 79th minutes respectively, while Alejandro Zendejas had two offensive chances blocked by Serbian defenders.

Serbia would hang on through, capturing its second-consecutive friendly win dating back to 2022. Slonina made two saves in the loss for the USMNT while Petrovic and Rosic each made two saves apiece in the victory.

The USMNT closes out its two-match window on Saturday in Carson, Cali. against Colombia.


  1. ————Vazquez————
    Keep it basic, play a formation that fits this C/D squad instead of the A squad.
    Zero chance this happens.

  2. So now Earnie Stewart has stepped down as Sporting Director. Wheesh US soccer now has to look for a new Sporting Director, GM, and Head Coach. US soccer leadership back in disarray again.

    • i saw zero benefit from the empire building/org charting. nor is it in our interests to spend another year doing never ending hiring searches down 3 layers of bureaucracy. go back to the old way. throw around a blank check, hire a top notch coach, and tell him after the ink is dry he need not ever come to chicago. then worry about filling chicago offices with suits. personally we come across more like a team that needs tactical freedom and less top down forcing of system, and like the help we could use is more of the scouting and recruiting variety. identify players. fight for dual nationals harder. (i did appreciate that for a change we were aggressively capping a few last night.)

      i would be curious what stewart/mcbride means in the big picture. does that mean they wanted or didn’t want GB and more of this 433 “possession” crap. were they canned on performance or not. were they canned over the reyna thing. were they canned for wanting zidane or mourinho, or for not wanting them enough. inside baseball, but curious.

      but as a dynamo fan who sees a lot of this methodical hiring search stuff up multiple rungs as slow and not even necessarily hand in glove, can we not waste the time. go big, hire a coach first, let’s get this ball rolling in march. really not eager for some value moneyball guy hired after a year who then turns out after his first year to be dubious value. host nation, strong generation, give them a star coach and clear the politics and federation empire building aside.

      • “Cone said she hoped to fill the positions of sporting director and USMNT manager “by the end of the summer.” “

        here we go again

      • to hear the GM duo talk, they both were moving on at contract end, my initial response is wow such dedication to the baby barca project, but i think it’s a dumb idea anyway, so who cares. i think cone needs to be held to, “We are eager to engage new leaders who will match our ambitions and realize our vision for the future.” talk is cheap, ideas are cute, and results need to start matching the talent and ambitions.

        fwiw cone apparently came back later and said we will try to have a sporting director by women’s world cup which is june. which means coach after that.

        hudson is an awful coach. yanking cowell for instance. i really hope we don’t waste a half a year going through these motions or giving GB a monthly job. get someone else with some gravitas as caretaker.

      • I just heard that Reyna is out at Austin FC. So it is looking like lots of the world cup class of 2002 is being purged. What remains to be seen is if this is a general purge, in which case Gregg is also gone, or whether Gregg is coming back after all of his adversaries have been kicked to the curb.

      • I will say this Gregg did not run the 4-3-3 at Columbus. Did Gregg become enamored with Chelsea, Bayern, and Man Citt using 4-3-3 or was it Stewart who grew up and played professionally in the Netherlands?

    • Ernie Stewart only got the job to begin with because the federation believed that having an additional layer of high paying bureaucrats would have prevented the team from flaming out of the 2018 WC qualification round. They should just eliminate the position and save some money, so they don’t have to cut future TV deals that result in more Americans having to watch their national team in Spanish rather than English.

      • A lot of Americans , about 41 million, speak Spanish. And a lot of them like soccer.

        Besides the English speaking commentators suck and I turn them down anyway.

        Think of it this way, if you were at the game you wouldn’t have Stu Holden commenting on the game for you.

      • Stewart got the job because Gulati (an Economist) gave JK a contract and an extension without much of any input from anyone else. When the US didn’t qualify it was thought there needed to be a “soccer guy” in the role to provide a buffer between the business people and the goings on on the field. As for HBO Max I doubt Earnie had any part of that deal, that’s the marketing side not the sporting side. Everyone wanted USSF to end its deal with SUM/MLS, this is what you get. Turner struggled a few years ago when it had CL doesn’t sound like they’ve improved much. It did give me an excuse to get Peacock to watch in Spanish and now will get the EPL games.

  3. way i look at it, the B team games are glorified tryouts, our opponent is weakened, and so my rule of thumb for these games is the dominant stars are going to be the only ones useful for immediate A team action. as such, they are fairly obvious: cowell, vazquez, gaga. gressel it occurred to me might be useful as a bench option to come on for a few minutes when we need offense, and hit crosses like that, if he holds up into his 30s. but i didn’t see defensive dominance where he’s a 90 guy. gomez looked like an interesting developmental project because he had the endline to endline engine and run-geometry well, just needs execution of end products, but not ready for A ball. the rest, neal and Z should disappear and beyond that, mixed bag in a B game isn’t an A game advertisement.

    deal is usually only so many guys emerge from games like this come march. not as many as some think. but who knows, we have a summer tournament this year and the last new coach forgot every single thing sarachan might have learned, good or ill. so did the game really matter? who knows. but even if we got a noob who wanted to start cold vazquez and gaga might get called on rep anyway (less so cowell who has modest league numbers for a frontline guy, but SJ sucks).

    • sonora didn’t impress me that much but the one thing he did that needs to come back in style is run at the defense and hit a leading pass at the interior of the backline. every freaking thing goes wide lately. the only player who occasionally gets passes between the wingbacks is weah and those are more of the angled throughball variety. perhaps just a reflection how indirect the offense has gotten. even the goal was a cross.

      • I’ve only seen Sonora a couple times in Argentina, usually has good set pieces but it was my understanding he’s more of a #10, so maybe just not super comfortable as an 8. Second, he’s out of contract so probably is working on his own which isn’t optimal. Hopefully plays better this weekend and finds a club sooner than later.

  4. The fitness level of Cade Cowell and Alex Zendejas……ridiculous. Constantly running, good first touch, short quick passes to open up space moving forward (especially with Paul Arriola and Eryk Williamson), taking on players at speed……just awesome to watch. Gomez was dynamic and came to life after Cowell was subbed off (so maybe they need to play on opposite sides of the pitch).
    There’s a lot of room for improvement but I like what I see in some players……

  5. Just some thoughts on the guys we saw-

    BRANDON VASQUEZ-definitely didn’t hurt his case, pressed surprisingly well, absolutely want to see more of him. I think he could play in the bottom half of the Prem and certainly the Championship right now.
    CADE COWELL-insane speed and athleticism, needs refinement. Also needs to show better commitment to the press and defending. Needs a Europe move where he’ll be pushed ASAP. The sky’s clearly the limit as far as ceiling.
    ALEJANDRO ZENDAJAS-was the MOTM for me. Is at minimum the third-best winger on the USMNT right now and I love his relentless pressing, ability to wiggle out of pressure, and ability to work the inside channels because he’s left-footed…if I’m Tim Weah, I’m nervous. We MUST keep this guy, he adds a ton to the pool and unlocks a part of the field we simply don’t use with a right-footed player at RW.
    PAXTON POMYKAL-awful match for him, was the worst player on the field last night for me. Probably the last time we see him, the pool’s just too deep right now.
    ALAN SONORA-not a good match either. Showed technical ability but his defensive busts were glaring. Still should find plenty of takers in MLS.
    AIDAN MORRIS-decent first appearance, though he’s got a ton of guys ahead of him.
    JONATHAN GOMEZ-showed pretty durn well, actually. Speed, technicality, willingness to get forward, decent-ish defender. Would like to see more of him. Kid has a future.
    WALKER ZIMMERMAN-had two big defensive mistakes, one of which cost us a goal and the other should have except Slonina stood on his head. Not his best match.
    JALEN NEAL-looked really good right up until the moment where he gifted Serbia the winner. Technical, athletic, intelligent, distributes very well. Kid has a bright future, might not be quite ready for the senior team yet.
    JULIAN GRESSEL-looked like the second-best RB in the US pool right now at minimum. Lacks blazing speed but does everything else exceptionally well, and in some situations I’d favor him over Sergino Dest. I think he’d pair better with Tim Weah, for instance, because Weah and Dest get into the same space, and Gressel wouldn’t…and his delivery into the box is far better. Did NOT pair as well with Zendejas because Zendejas plays as an inverted winger and we need more width than Gressel provides. I think he helps us in the 2026 cycle.
    GAGA SLONINA-the ability and poise leap off the field at you. Really needs to improve his distribution out of the back but I definitely saw a guy who could own the spot for 10+ years once he wins it…and I think he’ll win it at some point in the next few years.

    MATTHEW HOPPE-wasn’t nearly the same guy we saw in the Gold Cup. Isn’t playing and it shows. His movement wasn’t remotely in the same league as Vasquez. Couldn’t find the game at all.
    KELLYN ACOSTA-still a very solid player whose ability to play the 8 or 6 will keep him in the conversation but you do wonder if younger players may push him this cycle.
    ERYK WILLIAMSON-showed once again Berhalter underrated him badly. Athletic, skilled, physical, and technical, can put passes on a dime. Always leaves you wanting to see more of him and if not for his injuries you’d think he’d be playing at a high level in Europe. I personally think he’s Premier League quality.
    AARON LONG-meh. Hopefully this is the last time we see him.
    PAUL ARRIOLA-see above.
    DEJUAN JONES-looks like he has a real future though he did have one glaring lapse. Speedy, athletic, willing to get forward, fair-to-decent defender. Looks like a fair bet to play in Europe in the next year or so and I think he’ll do well. Might be a guy more for the 2030 cycle than the 2026 but he’s definitely one to watch.


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