LOS ANGELES – Interim head coach Anthony Hudson saw tenacity, bravery and attacking excitement from the youngsters and newcomers he sent out for the United States' first match since the World Cup.
Although none of it added up to a win, Hudson was hopeful a 2-1 defeat to Serbia on Wednesday was a positive first step toward the 2026 World Cup the U.S. will co-host.
Brandon Vazquez scored in the first half to lead a U.S. lineup with seven starters making their international debuts.
Veljko Simić gpt the go-ahead goal in the opening minute of the second half for Serbia, which gave debuts to 14 players. Eight Americans in all debuted during a lively friendly that felt like spring training at BMO Stadium near downtown Los Angeles.
“I have to say overall, I was really pleased with the performance,” Hudson said. ”I loved the fact that players were really driving to get forward and run behind the line and attack the back line. So I’m disappointed, obviously, with the result, but the way they went about the game was pleasing to me.”
The Americans are in transition with Hudson running the show while the U.S. Soccer Federation determines the future of coach Gregg Berhalter, whose contract expired at the end of last year. Hudson is using the annual January camp and accompanying exhibitions to give experience to a new crop of prospects after the U.S. was eliminated in the round of 16 at the World Cup in Qatar.
Hudson's team put on an exciting performance with much more action and attacking flair than normal in these annual January exhibitions, but the U.S. team has won just one of its last eight matches, with four draws and three losses.
The U.S., which hosts Colombia on Saturday, uses youngsters and MLS players in its winter camp, which falls outside a FIFA international window. The current group has 11 players getting their first callup and just five members of the World Cup roster.
“I told the guys before the game in the huddle that anytime you put on this jersey, whether it's in January or in a World Cup game,' you have to have pride,” said U.S. captain Walker Zimmerman, whose 38 international appearances were 10 more than the other 21 starters combined. "You never want to lose a game, but sometimes it's good to get experience for guys and welcome them into this brotherhood. That's what we feel great about.”
Luka Ilić scored late in the first half for Serbia, which fielded a starting lineup with eight debuting players and just 15 combined international appearances. LA Galaxy forward Dejan Joveljić led a group featuring none of the starters from the team’s last World Cup match against Switzerland.
“It's a good memory for (Serbia's young players), a good moment I think they will not forget,” Serbia coach Dragan Stojković said. “I saw a good mentality (from the U.S. team). They don't give up. We were maybe a little bit lucky to win, but both teams played good football.”
Goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina was among the most U.S. starters making debuts since nine against Guatemala on Jan. 10, 1988. Slonina at 18 years, 8 months, 8 days became the youngest U.S. goalkeeper, breaking a mark that Tony Meola set at 19 years, 3 months, 18 days against Ecuador on June 7, 1988.
Also debuting were defenders Julian Gressel and Jalen Neal, midfielders Aidan Morris and Alan Soñora, and forward Alejandro Zendejas plus second-half sub DeJuan Jones. Paul Arriola came on late as a substitute after being dropped late from the World Cup roster.
The U.S. went ahead when Vazquez rose to head home a beautiful cross from Gressel, his former teammate. Vazquez, a San Diego native who could play for the U.S. or Mexico, became the 59th player to score in his U.S. debut.
Vazquez scored 18 goals for Cincinnati last season, tied for the most by an American in Major League Soccer. Berhalter claimed the U.S. didn't have time to integrate him into its roster before the World Cup.
Gressel, a 29-year-old German fullback who gained U.S. citizenship last year, became the oldest player to make his first appearance for the American team since Chris Pontius in January 2017.
Slonina, a Chelsea prospect from Chicagoland, made a handful of spectacular saves.
But after Ilić evened it for Serbia on a short free kick in the 43rd minute, Simić capitalized on a turnover by Neal to put Serbia ahead in the 46th.
San Jose forward Cade Cowell played an impressive game down the left side in his second U.S. appearance. The 19-year-old rang two shots off the posts in the second half along with a third impressive strike that went just wide.
“Tonight wasn't my night,” Cowell said with a grin. “I was pretty happy overall, but I need to sharpen up. I still feel pretty confident going forward. Hopefully I can put those away."
Zendejas made his U.S. senior team debut after spending the previous six years as a Mexican international. The Club América forward, a teammate of Christian Pulisic on the 2015 Under-17 team, rejoined the U.S. program but still hasn’t decided where he’ll play in the long term.
“I thought he was outstanding,” Hudson said of Zendejas, who is leaving camp Thursday to rejoin América. “I did try and plead for him to stay, but hopefully we can get him back (later in the year).”
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