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Has the USMNT finally found its No. 9 in Brandon Vázquez?

Amid the off-field chaos and turmoil within the United States men’s national team, some questions have remained on the pitch. The U.S. is dripping with talent in almost every position, but one spot has remained untethered. The No. 9 has long been a giant, flailing red flag alongside world beaters like Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Matt Turner. But after years of experimentation with different systems and players, there's finally a chance that the trial and error period is over.

This January camp is being played during an unrecognized FIFA window, and as a result, many of the more recognizable faces have been retained by their clubs. This has presented interim head coach Anthony Hudson with the opportunity to give several young players their international debuts. 

Among the most anticipated inclusions was Brandon Vázquez, a 6-foot-2 center-forward who plays for FC Cincinnati. His tremendous 2022 MLS season saw him bag 18 goals and eight assists in 33 appearances, leading many to call for his inclusion at the World Cup.

Instead, he was passed up in favor of Haji Wright, Jesús Ferreira, Josh Sargent and Jordan Morris. Of those four, only Wright scored in Qatar as the USMNT struggled heavily to find the net with any consistency. 

In his debut for the United States, Vázquez started up top against Serbia and scored a clinical header to take the lead just before the half-hour mark. The goal meant very little within the context of the match, but American soccer fans rejoiced. It was the realization that we may have finally found our new No. 9. 

While the likes of Ferreira, Sargent, Wright, and even Jordan Pefok and Ricardo Pepi have failed to take their chances with the national team, Vázquez grabbed his with both hands. With just one international game under his belt, it will take more time and experience before the 24-year-old is a guaranteed starter, but based on his performances for Cincinnati and the goal on his debut, he has every chance of claiming the spot as his own. 

Vázquez recorded 0.85 goals and assists per 90 last season in MLS, as well as 0.49 expected goals per 90. When looking at the data, it’s clear that he deserves to be in the conversation going into the summer international tournaments. When watching him play, discussion feels irrelevant. He is really that good. 

Will he make the jump overseas like Jhon Duran and Đorđe Mihailović, or will he stick it out in MLS? The answer to that question may influence his inclusion in the future, depending on who leads the national team from here. So many questions, so few answers. 

While there's still is a long way to go before picking the roster for the 2026 World Cup, the future looks bright for the San Diego native. His next test will be against Colombia on Saturday, Jan. 28, at 4:30 p.m. PST.

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