Welcome to the New Era.
With the completion of the traditional January Camp friendlies, we are officially in the new World Cup cycle for the United States Men’s National Team, one that will culminate with the 2026 FIFA Men’s World Cup, held right here in the United States, in collaboration with Canada and Mexico. Now, how did the start of this new period for the USMNT go?
The US lost 2-1 to Serbia on Wednesday before a 0-0 draw to Colombia on Saturday.
The games themselves were rather entertaining, with play often going end-to-end and both teams really putting an effort against the US. This was a welcome twist, with January games somewhat notorious for being rather stilted and grindy matches. However, the play was also quite sloppy for both the US and the opposition in both games. But that’s to be expected. All three teams called in mostly reserve squads. Because these matches fell outside of an official FIFA date, club teams are not required to release their players for international duty. For the US, this meant a lot of players from MLS, who are otherwise out of season. On top of that, quite a few of those names who were actually called up are young and inexperienced at the international level. Same applied for Serbia and Colombia (who themselves had a significant MLS cohort.) Given the constraints of this particular camp and the relatively low-stakes at play, I figured it would be more productive to talk to them together and discuss what this potentially means for the team and the program going forward, rather than the specifics for the matches themselves.
Since we are talking about two games here, I figured a quick refresher is in order. Of course, I recommend checking out the SSFC recaps for the matches against Serbia and Colombia.
Against Serbia, the USMNT trotted out a very youthful starting eleven, with only Walker Zimmerman returning to the lineup after featuring at the World Cup. Excluding Zimmerman, the entire rest of the squad had a combined 3 caps coming into the match. With this inexperience, the team struggled, particularly in midfield. The trio of Aidan Morris, Alan Soñora, and Paxton Pomykal struggled with Serbia’s direct play at times, allowing the Serbs looks on goal. Thankfully, goalkeeper Gaga Slonina rose to the occasion and made several superb saves.
On the other side of the field, the US had a few good looks on goal. Cade Cowell in particular stood out, hitting the post twice in quick succession. But the real highlight came from striker Brandon Vazquez, who scored with a wonderful headed finish following a subtle run in front of his defender to get on the end of a cross from right back Julian Gressel.
. @Brvndonv becomes the 59th #USMNT player to score in his debut pic.twitter.com/TbP0ay82DS— U.S. Men's National Soccer Team (@USMNT) January 26, 2023
Alas, despite getting the opening goal, the result did not go the US’s way. Before halftime, Serbia equalized off a free kick, with the shot going through an unfortuitous gap in the wall. In the 2nd half, a defensive error from center back Jalen Neal (at 19, making his international debut before his club debut with the LA Galaxy), gifted Serbia a lead. While the US pressed for an equalizer, they were not able to find one.
Against Colombia, Hudson fielded a more experienced team, with 5 players from the World Cup in the starting eleven, along with another 3 returning after appearing at the 2021 Gold Cup. While that experience didn’t translate to goals, it did lead to a more controlled defensive performance. Colombia did get chances, largely along the USMNT’s right side, but these were largely constrained and mitigated, with only one shot on target conceded. On the other end, while the US was often disjointed, they did get some good looks. Paxten Aaronson (younger brother to Brendan Aaronson) had a shot saved, while Matthew Hoppe missed the opportunity to give Paul Arriola a tap in.
The Interim Situation
Following the departures of head coach Gregg Berhalter and USMNT general manager Brian McBride, and the announcement of the impending departure of USMNT sporting director Earnie Stewart, USMNT assistant coach Anthony Hudson was left to steer the ship on the part of the USMNT, at least on an interim basis. So these two matches represent the start of the Hudson era of the team, however brief it may be.
I am not going to hide my displeasure that Anthony Hudson is the current (interim) head coach of the USMNT. Hudson has a over a decade’s worth of experience in the international, split between the youth and senior levels, the later of which were specifically with Bahrain and New Zealand. However, I recognize Hudson from his time in Major League Soccer. Prior to becoming an assistant with the national team, Hudson was the coach of the Colorado Rapids from 2017-19. By the time he was discharged, Hudson had the ignoble record of the worst statistical score in the Rapids’ history. He was dismissed after making the following statement after a match v. Atlanta United:
We are fighting at the bottom with a bottom group of players and we have to find a way to pick up results whilst also being a team that tries to play a certain way. And we just have to find that balance.
The only way it’s going to be a quick fix is if you wave a magic wand at it and throw lots of money at it. Clearly we’re not doing that. I’ll go back to this: Every single game we go into, whether it’s Nani, whether it’s [Wayne] Rooney, whether it’s [Lucho] Acosta — every single week there are players in this league making a difference and the gap in quality is huge …
There are teams with a lot more quality than us. And that’s what we’re competing against. And no one talks about it.
I keep a rule of thumb that public scapegoating of players like this is a hallmark of a poor manager. To make it worse, Hudson’s successors, Conor Casey (interim) and Robin Fraser, both did substantially better with nearly the same roster that Hudson had to work with.
Given this history, I am sure that you can understand that my expectations were set low. My basic fear was that we would have something akin to 2017, when Dave Sarachan, himself an assistant turned interim coach, spent a year essentially trotting out rosters of young players with no real cognizable strategy. Given that the USMNT program had spent the last few years building itself up to be able to put forward a sophisticated and effective playing system for the World Cup, such a move would have been a major step back.
Luckily, that has not been the case. To my relief, Hudson clearly valued continuity with this camp. While the faces were largely new, particularly for the Serbia game, the actual play was not. The team was fielded in a familiar 4-3-3 formation. Possession was emphasized, with the fullbacks providing width while the wings came inside and provided the primary goal threat. The actual execution did not rise to the level that we saw at the World Cup. Where the World Cup squad put out very controlled performances, with very few threatening counter-attacking chances conceded even against the best opposition despite an emphasis on possession, the games against Serbia and Colombia featured far more chaos and scrambling, with American players unable to play out of the press at times or unable to recover the ball before the other team could attack into space. However, that was always to be expected given that Berhalter had 4 years to reach that level with the full player pool available, while Hudson had 4 days before the Serbia game, with a roster largely pulled from MLS.
The real point of interest here wasn’t really what the team did during these games. Rather, it is a question of what approach will be taken going forward. With so many departures at the management level for the team (the consequences of which will need to be discussed later), we can expect an interim period of 6 or more months without a manager. So, presumably, this is Hudson’s team for the time being.
That’s about all I have the patience to say about these two games, but I did want to close with a quick note about which new players I want to see more of with the full national team:
That’s it from me. As always, we want to know what you thought of the games; drop us your thoughts in the comments section!