Paxten Aaronson was a bright spot in USMNT’s goalless draw with Colombia. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
CARSON, Calif. – The United States men’s national team drew 0-0 with Colombia in the second of two January friendlies for the home side as both sides fielded relatively inexperienced squads.
Colombia were ahead 12-5, but shots on goal went 2-1 in the home side’s favour. And it was USA who had the better chances as Paxten Aaronson ran narrowly in the first half in his USMNT debut. Sean Johnson was the busier of the two keepers but overall had little to do that night.
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1. US deserves a draw in a very unfriendly January friendlies
Friendlies that round off camp in January are often tepid affairs. The US players are in preseason mode and the lack of sharpness outweighs most of the positives. Added to this is the relative lack of experience. While the US hosted World Cup contenders Walker Zimmerman, Kellyn Acosta, Jesus Ferreira and Aaron Long, and veteran Paul Arriola, some of the other players were making their first forays into the international arena.
This also applied to Colombia. Aside from left-back Frank Fabra, no Colombian starter has had more than three caps. But there was some spice to this encounter, helped in no small part by the heavily pro-Colombian crowd. There was plenty of end-to-end play in the first half and some clear looks on goal, including a deflected shot from Paxten Aaronson in the 14th minute that grazed the post.
LAFC’s Cristian Arango also had some clear chances but failed to find the target. The game’s chaotic nature was so chaotic that the performers being shown seemed to alternate good plays with bad ones, often in the same order. Matthew Hoppe was a case in point. The Middlesbrough winger was indefatigable with his defensive pressure and kept putting himself in good positions with his off-ball runs. But his decision-making on the ball looked rusty, a product of the lack of playing time with his club.
There was physical play too, with three yellow cards in the first half handed out by referee Said Martinez for Colombia. Two were the result of Arriola’s attacking runs, which forced fouls from the cafeteros near the penalty area. In the second half the frenetic pace cooled somewhat and interim manager Anthony Hudson felt confident enough to end the game with two young centre-backs in Jalen Neal and Sam Rogers. Substitute Brandon Vazquez was late to finish off a Kellyn Acosta free-kick but couldn’t follow, leaving both teams content with a draw.Paul Arriola fights with Colombia defenseman Frank Fabra in his 50th appearance for the USMNT. Omar Vega/Getty Images
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2. Another Aaronson makes a positive impression
Caretaker manager Anthony Hudson had announced he would make a big change in his squad from the side that lost 2-1 to Serbia and he kept his word by making ten changes to the line-up that started against Serbia, Zimmerman being the only one was leftover. That meant two more international debuts, this time for Paxten Aaronson – brother of Leeds United and USA international Brenden Aaronson – and John Tolkin, defender for New York Red Bulls.
Aaronson, who signed from the Philadelphia Union at Eintracht Frankfurt in November, rose to the challenge and displayed many of the same qualities as his older brother. He was an absolute defensive nuisance, actively sought the ball and showed lightning-fast feet. He almost went on the archway in the 14th minute when his deflected shot grazed the post.
His performance wasn’t entirely free of struggle. One area Aaronson needs to improve on is simply sensing danger with his back to his opponent. He lost the ball four times in the first half, a problem that can be solved simply by playing faster.
Fellow debutant Tolkin also struggled with some physical struggles, but adjusted as the game progressed. The quality of his left foot is unquestionable. But games like this are about the future. These players, who are just starting their international careers, won’t have to produce for the US next week or even in March when the first-choice players come together for the first time since the World Cup. But players have to start somewhere, and this was a necessary first step.
3. Has anyone earned a spot for the March window?
Across the two games, 12 players made their debuts (the most ever in those January camps), with Vazquez doing the most to help himself. The US goalscorer against Serbia came on as a substitute in the game and although he didn’t score, the FC Cincinnati man offers a physical presence few others can match in the pool. Combine that with his finishing touches and he’s a player who could make his mark.
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Alejandro Zendejas, who returned to Club America after the Serbia game, should also get an in-depth look given his momentum on the wings and precision in terms of the end product. Of course, the question for Zendejas is whether, if called up for an official competition, will he make or hand in this one-off move to Mexico. That remains to be seen.
Credit also goes to Cade Cowell. He was an unused substitute that night but showed a lot of potential against Serbia. The key now is, can he repeat that performance at club level with the San Jose Earthquakes?
Otherwise, it seems like the rest of the young performers in this camp are far from breaking through. That said, for many of them, time is on their side.
Best, worst (and mixed) performers
Best: Paul Arriola, USA
It’s perhaps no surprise that one of the more experienced players would do well on the field (he was capping his 50th cap) but the FC Dallas man was a menacing presence on the flank, forcing two different Colombian players to foul with the yellow to commit card.
Best: Diego Valoyes, Colombia
The Colombian attacker gave Tolkin everything he could, especially in the first half. He also created a team-high three chances.
Best: Paxten Aaronson, USA
Aaronson had more positives than negatives in his international debut and adjusted his game in the second half.
Worst: Frank Fabra, Colombia
The USA found much success on his side when Arriola forced a foul with a yellow card. Fabra also struggled with the ball and only completed 67.5% of his passes.
Mixed bag: Matthew Hoppe, USA
A “worst” label would have been too harsh considering the positions he’s put himself in, but his decision making and touch let him down at times. He desperately needs games at club level.
Highlights and notable moments
Paxten Aaronson was one of the USMNT’s standout players, as evidenced by that early scoring opportunity against Colombia.
Pax gets involved early 👀
— United States Men’s National Soccer Team (@USMNT) January 29, 2023
With more playing time and experience, he should put this on the net.
After the game: What the coaches and players said
US caretaker coach Anthony Hudson on Paxten Aaronson’s debut: “Paxten is a really exciting player, very confident. He was a day or two late but you can see his quality. We don’t know what his level will be but we believe in his talent and we’ll see what he can do .” .”
USMNT keeper Sean Johnson on the camp: “It’s a great group of players and that speaks to the depth of our group of players. … We have good times ahead of us. We would have liked to win and we had our chances but it was solid all round. Like a group, I have felt like this camp was a step forward.”
Hudson on whether he will continue as interim coach: “Until I’m told otherwise, I will do my best for the team and the players.”
US: With no fixtures until the March games against Grenada and El Salvador as part of the Nations League title defense, expect all the action to be off the field as speculation rages during the search for coaches and general managers gain weight.
Colombia: No scheduled games on the calendar yet.