It didn’t take long for the Brandon Vazquez’s name to enter the conversation for a US men’s national team call-up.
The idea of Vazquez’s possible future inclusion in the USMNT was introduced about an hour after the conclusion of Saturday’s 3-1 win against Inter Miami CF. Vazquez had practically just stepped off the field after delivering two goals and an assist. He also drew a penalty kick.
While some likely scoffed at the notion of Vazquez being included in the USMNT today, the spirit of the conversation that ensued post-match was to acknowledge the 23-year-old’s hot start to 2022 and his potential to continue delivering.
“His upside, his potential is massive,” FC Cincinnati head coach and former USMNT player Pat Noonan said. “You can see that with his last two performances. 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. In the end, as a striker, you have to finish plays off. And he’s doing that right now. His overall performances for the group are what’s helping us to have success and win games.
“But it’s baby steps. It’s not all of a sudden national team. Let’s just continue to work the right way for your club, and if you continue to perform like this, there’ll be other opportunities out there for you. He’s got the right mentality, though. He doesn’t think too much of himself after he has a successful day or a successful game. That part is important. That’s going to help him move along in the right way with the right head on the shoulders.”
The idea of Vazquez earning a call-up is based on a relatively small body of work, albeit a consistent and impressive one. It’s also predicted on the idea that Vazquez stays hot in 2022.
This week, the USMNT will begin on the final window of qualifying games for this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar. It’s a vital three-match span, and the national team has plenty of work to do to clinch its spot in Qatar.
Vazquez wasn’t included on USMNT manager Gregg Berhalter’s 27-player qualifying roster. While Vazquez represented US Soccer in the youth ranks, he’s yet to earn his first senior national team appearance, or “cap.”
That being said, Vazquez wasn’t expected to be called in by Berhalter this time around, nor had he been included at any prior point in the current qualifying process.
That Vazquez’s name would enter the conversation so quickly says something about the striker position in the USMNT player pool, though.
While rife with decorated forwards from some of Europe’s top leagues, along with a few of the best Americans MLS has to offer, the striker position has lacked consistency in the current qualifying cycle.
Should the USMNT qualify for Qatar, it still seems unlikely that any player who didn’t participate in any portion of the qualifying process would surge into one of the coveted spots on a World Cup roster.
Of course, in theory, it could happen. Vazquez’s four goals and all-around performances in the last two games for Cincinnati would serve as a strong foundation to make his case. He’d also need to be continue contributing goals at a reliable rate throughout the season.
In order to continue delivering for FC Cincinnati, Vazquez said following the Inter Miami match that his approach wouldn’t change.
“For sure. Like what Pat said, I’m focused here this is my main focus now,” Vazquez said. “I’m gonna keep working hard and keep scoring goals and do the best I can to get wins for this team and for the city. ”
For many local fans, it’s just enough to enjoy the Vazquez’s current form for FC Cincinnati.
Vazquez, who reported early for preseason this past winter, has tallied eight goals and three assists in his last 13 appearances for FCC dating back to an 11-minute run as a substitute Sept. 25 against DC United.
Vazquez has started each of the last nine matches dating back to last season, and has seven goals during that span.
This burst of offense is the most consistent individual run of scoring FC Cincinnati’s had in MLS.
For context, Vazquez’s haul of goals over the last 13 games is equal to Brenner Souza da SIlva’s output since he joined the club prior to the 2021 season. If only for the time being, it’s also vaulted Vazquez to the perch of being Cincinnati’s all-time leading scorer in MLS.
Allan Cruz had been the club’s leader with nine goals entering this season.
This year, Vazquez has been working with FC Cincinnati assistant coach Dominic Kinnear on finishing and movement in the penalty area.
Noonan said Saturday that the coaching staff had to coax Vazquez off the Mercy Health Training Center practice fields last week in order to preserve his good health.
“For me, since I’ve been younger, I’ve seen that only extra work gets you extra, or get you to a better place,” Vazquez said. “I feel like my training, my extra, all the extra stuff that I do. I’ve been doing it I’ve been doing it for years now and years and just been patient waiting and waiting. And, you know, when you come off the bench, sometimes it’s hard. You’re limited with opportunities, with time and, some opportunities just are tougher in that moment. And yeah, just a lot of patience and waiting for the opportunity.”
Matarrita talks Costa Rica nat’l team
Ronald Matarrita came steaming back into the picture for FC Cincinnati against Miami after missing the two previous matches through injury.
Making his first appearance since the club’s Feb. 26 season-opening loss at Austin FC, Matarrita banged home his first goal of the season for 1-0 in the 19th minute against Miami. He then went on to assist on Vazquez’s goals in the victory.
The performance earned Matarrita an MLS Team of the Week honor, the league announced Monday.
But following the match, he was gone. Matarrita departed for Costa Rica national team duty and had returned to his homeland by Sunday.
The upcoming FIFA World Cup qualifying matches for the Concacaf region could be the biggest games of Matarrita’s career.
The eight-nation qualifying “octagonal” will see the top three teams qualify directly for the World Cup while the fourth-place finisher stays in contention for the World Cup via an intercontinental playoff against a nation from FIFA’s Oceania region.
Costa Rica enters the upcoming games in fifth position and with little room for error.
Concacaf World Cup qualifying standings:
1. Canada (25 points; 7-0-4; plus-14 goal differential)
2. USMNT (21 points; 6-2-3; plus-nine)
3. Mexico City (21 points; 6-2-3; plus-six)
4. Panama (17 points; 5-4-2; plus-one)*
5. Costa Rica (16 points; 4-3-4; plus-one)
6. El Salvador (nine points; 2-6-3; minus-seven)
7. e – Jamaica (1-6-4, seven points)
8th – Honduras (0-8-3, three points)
e – eliminated.
Still, Matarrita’s playing with a World Cup berth on the line.
“These three games will be really important we are just one point out of the fourth place, we have to get it,” Matarrita said after Saturday’s game. “We don’t have a chance to lose, we don’t have a chance to give up some points, so we have to arrive to the games with the mentality that we can to arrive to the World Cup.”
Costa Rica hosts octagonal-leading Canada on Thursday (10:05 pm). It travels to El Salvador for a Sunday match (5:05 pm) before Los Ticos close out the qualifying process against the USMNT on March 30 at Costa Rica’s National Stadium (9:05 pm).
The USMNT faces a gauntlet of matches to close out qualifying. They begin the window Thursday at Mexico’s Estadio Azteca (10 pm) before hosting Panama on Sunday at Orlando’s Exploria Stadium (7 pm).
The Americans’ trip to Costa Rica could see both teams enter the match with World Cup berths at stake for both countries. The USMNT has never won a World Cup qualifier on Costa Rican soil and last earned a draw there in 1985.