After a valiant effort, the United States men’s national team started 2023 with a 2-1 loss to Serbia in an international friendly on Wednesday.
At the BMO Stadium in Los Angeles, Calif., home of LAFC, the USMNT started off shaky with Serbia looking like the far better team within the first 10 to 15 minutes, but eventually settled in and became the controlling side.
San Jose Earthquakes left winger Cade Cowell provided incredible energy and directness from his flank throughout, but the opening goal came from the opposite side. Right back Julian Gressel delivered a cross into the box that Brandon Vazquez headed home in the 29th minute.
But the next two -- and final -- goals of the game went to Serbia. The first came just before halftime when Luka Ilić converted a free kick, exposing the space Walker Zimmerman and Gressel created. Then, right after halftime, Veljko Semić pounced on a loose ball in a dangerous area to make it 2-1.
It was all USMNT from that point on, but they just didn’t have enough end product to see out a result.
Let’s analyze the USMNT’s performance with instant match ratings following the loss:
GK Gaga Slonina – 6.5: He made an incredible save just moments after the opener, but two defensive moments that weren’t his fault cost the team two goals. He can definitely make a run for a backup spot behind Matt Turner and push the competition between the sticks.
RB Julian Gressel – 6.5: He would’ve been a straight 6.0 if not for the assist, otherwise he didn’t bestow the greatest contributions on both sides. He was also partially at fault for Serbia’s opener
CB Walker Zimmerman – 5.5: It’s harsh to say but he was outplayed by a 19-year-old partner who has yet to make his MLS debut. He was mainly at fault for the first goal and came off at halftime, so the veteran has cleaning up to do.
CB Jalen Neal – 7: A center back’s best attribute is always composure. Everything else comes after. The 19-year-old LA Galaxy product had a propitious USMNT debut, looking sharp on and off the ball and making the right decisions the majority of the time. He would’ve hoped to make a better play on the second goal, but there’s a lot to like from Neal’s performance.
LB Jonathan Gomez – 5.5: Within the opening minutes he stumbled his way into sloppy mistakes and never quite recovered. His passing lacked sharpness and could’ve done a better job helping Cowell on the left flank.
CDM Aidan Morris – 6: His best moment came when he carried the ball on a counter attack from one side of the field to the other only to see his long-distance strike to the upper right corner get saved. He often played as a single pivot holding midfielder but currently seems best suited in a double pivot role. He didn't shy away from a tough position, though, so that's certainly a plus.
CM Paxton Pomykal – 5.5: He played the left-sided center midfield role as a right-footer but failed to make a legitimate imprint.
CM Alan Sonora – 6.5: He played on the opposite side of Pomykal as a left-footer and looked threatening whenever he had it. He’s currently a free agent but probably shouldn’t be for long. He always looked to play the ball forward or carry it himself, and his technical level is clean and tidy.
RW Alejandro Zendejas – 6: An extremely quiet first half and early second half had him low, but he ended the game on a positive note and created some chances. Considering he won eight of 11 ground duels, it’d be interesting to see him in a center-mid role than out wide.
ST Brandon Vazquez – 6.5: Goalscoring has become his dominant attribute, and it proved crucial when he got his goal. After that, though, his chances came few and far between. He could blow the door wide open for the No. 9 role if he continues to score.
LW Cade Cowell – 8: His game in one word? Electric. He was a player to watch coming into these friendlies and he lived up to the hype, creating a bevy of chances and was completely unlucky not to log a goal or assist, with one moment seeing him hit the post twice in one minute. Christian Pulisic has competition.
45” CB Aaron Long – 6: He subbed on at halftime but wasn’t too influential.
57” CM Eryk Williamson – 6: He gave away possession cheaply on a few occasions but nearly equalized in sensational style.
62” CF Matthew Hoppe – 5.5: This could’ve been a key turning point for Hoppe’s status, but he logged just three touches after subbing on.
62” CM Kellyn Acosta – 6: The LAFC midfielder tried to get too creative too often, which has never been his strong suit.
62” RB Dejuan Jones – 5.5: He nearly gave away a goal after taking too long to clear the ball but made up for it with some solid runs down the right flank.
73” LW Paul Arriola – 5.5: He didn’t get the ball much either, but his lone key chance barely demonstrated power.