Commentary

Brandon Vazquez 'starts fresh' after not getting late USMNT call-up in 2022

The 2015 U-17 World Cup cycle will go down as one of the most productive youth national team cycles in the history of the U.S. men's national team program.

Four players who represented the USA at the 2015 U-17 World Cup went the 2022 World Cup in Qatar: Tyler Adams, Christian Pulisic, Haji Wright and Luca de la Torre. Weston McKennie, who started all four games in Qatar, and Reggie Cannon, who already has 28 senior caps, were also in the mix to make the U-17 World Cup team but didn't make the final cut.

Two more players from the 2015 U.S. U-17 World Cup team should make their U.S. senior debuts this week: Brandon Vazquez and Alejandro Zendejas.

Vazquez grew up in Chula Vista on the U.S.-Mexican border and commuted to training at Liga MX's Tijuana 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. Unlike Pulisic, Adams, Wright, de la Torre, McKennie or Zendejas, Vazquez never attended residency in Bradenton, Florida, but he is close with his former youth teammates.

"The camaraderie between our old squad is the same as it's always been," said Vazquez on a media call on Monday. "It's been, like, seven years since we've all had our group together. But the friendships are all the same. We all pretty much stay in contact still through social media and stuff. So coming back together and being together is always a lot of fun being able to catch up."

Vazquez moved to MLS is 2017 without ever playing for Tijuana in Liga MX, but he was slow to gain regular playing time, first with Atlanta United and then with FC Cincinnati after it acquired him in 2020. His stats over five seasons -- nine goals and seven assists -- gave no indication of what would come next.

Vazquez scored 18 goals -- plus one in the playoffs -- and added eight assists, leading FC Cincinnati to the MLS playoffs after it finished last in the overall standings in each of its first three seasons.



By the fall, when no one appeared to claim the starting job as the center forward on the national team ahead of the World Cup, Vazquez's name emerged as a candidate for the team headed to Spain for two friendlies against Japan and Saudi Arabia.

Vazquez said head coach Gregg Berhalter's message when he talked with him before the September camp was: "It was a little too late to integrate me and that he feels I made it really hard for him and that I just need to keep proving myself and that I’ll [have] that opportunity in the next cycle."

Sure enough, Vazquez was called into the January camp along with 12 other uncapped players.

"I was just doing everything possible that I can control to give myself the best opportunity to get into the World Cup roster," he said of his 2022 campaign. "And unfortunately, it didn't happen that way. But you just kind of shake it off and start all over again. And that's exactly what I'm doing now. Start fresh, with a lot of energy and a lot of excitement to be here."

In place of Berhalter, Anthony Hudson will be coaching the USMNT in January for the matches against Serbia and Colombia.

"I haven't been able to work with him previously to this camp," Vazquez said of Hudson, "but I did get to meet him last year. And he did come out to Cincinnati to one of my games, and I got to speak to him there for a while and got to know him."

Vazquez and his teammates began to arrive in camp on Saturday and will play their first game on Wednesday against Serbia in Los Angeles.

"Having only a couple of days in camp before each game," he explained, "we got straight into the tactical stuff, the job of each position, exactly how they want us to play. The training sessions have been great. The intensity has been great. And like we have said, the energy of the group is high. Everything has been spot on."

Top Photo: Brandon Vazquez at USMNT camp on Monday. Credit: John Dorton/ISI Photos

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