Commentary

Brandon Vazquez's call-up to MLS all-stars puts national team future in focus

Brandon Vazquez, the 23-year-old FC Cincinnati forward, was added to the MLS all-star team for its match against Liga MX's stars next Wednesday at Allianz Field in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Vazquez's addition (in place of NYCFC's Taty Castellanos, who moved on loan to Spain's Girona) is reminiscent of Ricardo Pepi's selection to the MLS all-stars a year ago.

Within two weeks of the 2021 All-Star Game, Pepi made his debut for the USA, scoring the winning goal in a 4-1 win at Honduras that turned around its World Cup qualifying campaign that started with a pair of ties.

Vazquez has not been selected for the U.S. national team, but his strong play for FC Cincinnati makes him a prime candidate to be called up for matches against Japan and Saudi Arabia in September.

Vazquez has scored 13 goals and added four assists to give him 17 goal contributions, tied for third in MLS with FC Cincinnati teammate Luciano Acosta and FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira. That's one more than his total for his first five seasons in MLS (nine goals and seven assists).

Ferreira is the only forward likely assured of a spot on the USA's World Cup roster for the finals that begin Nov. 21 against Wales in Qatar.

Pepi followed up his sensational debut with two goals in a 2-0 win over Jamaica in October — but that was the last goal he scored for club or country. In his second season at Augsburg, he faces a huge task, trying to win back a starting role but just as important, his confidence.

In recent windows, Jordan Pefok and Haji Wright have seen playing time on the national team, but neither has appeared to have won over U.S. coach Gregg Berhalter.

Which leaves an opening for Vazquez.

He grew up in Chula Vista on the U.S.-Mexican border across from Tijuana and commuted to training at Xolos each morning following in the footsteps of U.S. internationals Joe Corona and Paul Arriola, who also grew up in Chula Vista and started their pro careers at Xolos.

Vazquez played for Mexico's U-17 team before switching to play for the USA and scoring two of its three goals at the 2015 Under-17 World Cup on a team that included current national team players Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams and Luca de la Torre. Wright was also on the team and lost his starting spot to Vazquez for the second and third matches.

New FC Cincinnati coach Pat Noonan has given Vazquez a steady starting job for the first time in his career — he's already played more than twice as many minutes as he played in any of his previous five MLS seasons — and the young forward has been a big part of the FCC turnaround. After starting out with the worst record in MLS in its first three seasons after its move from the USL, FC Cincinnati is in the thick of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

Early on, Noonan was impressed with Vazquez's contributions: “Not just with the goals, but his ability to hold the ball, his ability to work defensively for our team. He does a lot of little things to help the group have success."

Berhalter has taken notice.

“He's close,” he said in May when he announced his squad for the June window. “If he continues to score goals at [this] rate and his team continues to win, I'm sure there will be an opportunity for him in the future. I don't know what that means in terms of timing, but he's a guy we've been impressed with his play.”

In an interview with Extratime in June, Vazquez said he spoke with Berhalter:

“He said he likes my movement in the box and to keep scoring, to keep this momentum up and that anything could happen. It's a World Cup year, so I know it's harder to make it into a squad that's already been working for years together for this tournament.”

Like Pepi was a year ago, Vazquez is also eligible to play for Mexico, coached by Tata Martino, his coach at Atlanta United when he moved to MLS in 2017.

Pepi, who played for the USA at the 2019 Under-17 World Cup, was called up to represent the USA the day after he scored the winning penalty kick in the MLS all-stars' shootout win at the 2021 MLS All-Star Game in Los Angeles.

For Vazquez, there is no need to make an immediate decision. It's still more than a month before Berhalter will have to select his roster for the September friendlies. (Instead of windows in the first half of September and October, FIFA has scheduled a single window at the end of September ahead of the World Cup in Qatar.) And that will give him time to evaluate Pepi, Pefok and Wright and their starts to their new seasons.

"Doors are open for both, I guess," Vazquez told Extratime of playing for the USA or Mexico. "I have to make that decision when we cross that bridge.”

2 comments about "Brandon Vazquez's call-up to MLS all-stars puts national team future in focus".
  1. Perry McIntyre, August 4, 2022 at 6:44 a.m.

    The upside was apparent when Brandon was with Atlanta. Wish they'd protected him, and kept him in organization, but happy he is reaching his potential. Hope his choice is USMNT.

  2. R2 Dad, August 4, 2022 at 6:37 p.m.

    Now that the Nats are starting to show more interest, El Tri will put on the full court press.

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