5 takeaways from USMNT’s 2-1 loss vs. Serbia – NBC Los Angeles

5 takeaways from USMNT’s 2-1 loss to Serbia originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

The Stars and Stripes are back on the field, and the future looks exciting.

Although the featured players are not available, the United States men’s team, led by interim head coach Anthony Hudson, had a lot of youth on display at his 2-1 loss to Serbia on Wednesday.

Brandon Vázquez, 24-year-old forward for FC Cincinnati scored the team’s first goal in 2023 on a clean header, but that was the only time the USMNT would find the net. Serbia equalized with a free kick just before halftime, then made it 2-1 a minute into the second half.

The USMNT attacked relentlessly as Serbia soaked up the blows, but ultimately the visiting team emerged unscathed. Let’s take a look at five takeaways from the first of two January friendlies for the United States:

Cade Cowell is putting himself on the map

Remember the name. Cade Cowell, 19, came into friendlies as player to watch and absolutely wreaked havoc on the Serb defense. The San Jose Earthquakes product showed his pace and directness every time he received the ball and deserved to write his name on the scoresheet with a goal or an assist.

He had a moment in the second half where he hit the post twice in one minute and never seemed to run out of energy. His passing in the final third will need polishing, but he can be serious competition for Christian Pulisic on the left wing as he continues to develop. Plus, considering he didn’t get much help from Jonathan Gomez or Paxton Pomykal on the left side, he imagines what he could do with more serve.

Jalen Neal’s USMNT Debut Starts Out Brightly

With three clearances, one blocked shot, one interception, 9 of 9 accurate long balls, 101 touches and 86 of 92 completions (93%), 19-year-old Jalen Neal has also established himself as someone to watch both at club as international.

The LA Galaxy product has yet to appear in MLS, but it likely won’t be for long. His composure is absolutely vital for a young central defender and is often the key to a high-quality one. He rarely made mistakes in possession and moved deftly without the ball.

His involvement in Serbia’s second goal was the only negative in what was otherwise an extremely solid debut for someone who displayed the poise of a 10-year veteran. You wouldn’t think Walker Zimmerman and Aaron Long were the veterans on the field with the way Neal played.

Brandon Vazquez Could Solve USMNT No. 9’s Problems

It would be wise to invest in Brandon Vázquez stock from the start. The 24-year-old FC Cincinnati forward registered 19 goals and eight assists in 35 games last season, and got on the board with a header in his debut with the stars and stripes.

The lack of a true No. 9 goalscorer was evident throughout the team’s 2022 FIFA World Cup run, but it wasn’t exactly surprising given the lack of options heading into the tournament. Vazquez had yet to make his debut at the time, but his finishing ability could be what sets him apart going forward.

His waiting game will need to improve though, as he was often missing for long stretches when not getting service. That ability is why Josh Sargent and Haji Wright played significant minutes in Qatar, but their finishing couldn’t be relied on against solid defences. If Vázquez combines both, he can gain open competition as a striker.

Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina showed why Chelsea invested in him

English Premier League side Chelsea spent $15 million last summer to sign Gabriel Slonina from the Chicago Fire, then allowed him to remain on loan in MLS for the season. They may have invested in the 18-year-old at the right time.

Goalies tend to reach their prime in their 20s and 30s. Take compatriot Matt Turner, for example, who reached a new level with Arsenal at 28 and became a pivotal player for the Stars and Stripes in Qatar. Slonina, however, is 10 years younger and is playing like a veteran, although he is definitely raw.

He saved four shots on the night and hit 3 of 7 long balls to display an intriguing quality of distribution. There’s a long, long way to go in his career, but $15 million could turn out to be a bargain for the Blues. Expect Slonina to compete alongside Turner and Co. for more caps sooner rather than later.

Anthony Hudson doesn’t stray too far from Gregg Berhalter’s tactics

Not exactly surprising considering it was his first game as caretaker manager, but Hudson’s tactics remained well within the purview of Berhalter’s implementations during the previous World Cup cycle.

The starting line-up featured a 4-3-3 without a true left-footed centre-back, a single-pivot holding midfielder who made advanced runs, a right-footed right winger and two forward central midfielders. When the US managed to pin down Serbia’s five-man low block, sometimes the full backs would push all the way up to create a 6-5 overload on the back line.

That didn’t always happen though, because this specific Aidan Morris-Alan Sonora-Paxton Pomykal trio isn’t yet capable of dominating possession, winning second balls and catching teams, but it did happen on occasion.

Then in the second half, some of the subs helped bring out more specific players. Trading right-back Julian Gressel for Dejuan Jones unlocked Alejandro Zendajas in advanced roles, and going with a double pivot from Kellyn Acosta and Eryk Williamson helped them better retain possession as Serbia looked to hit the counter-attack. That made Cowell even more dangerous in isolated situations.

With the first game out of the way, it will be interesting to see how their approach changes – or remains – against Colombia on Saturday.