Yeah, I know. We do this every few months. Have for basically our entire lives, except for maybe that brief Jozy Altidore interlude…right until he popped his hammy in Brazil. And we’ll continue to do this every few months for the rest of our lives, pinning our hopes for a genuine No. 9 for the USMNT on yet another candidate in rotation in perpetuity. It is our burden, it is our curse, at least until we discover Erling Haaland’s grandfather actually grifted an American passport from someone instead of being literally Thor as he probably was.
Even in these pages (technically they’re pages!), I’ve extolled the virtues of Ricardo Pepi or Daryl Dike or Jordan Pefok. I haven’t really gotten to Jesus Ferreira, who is clearly Gregg Berhalter’s (I told him down at the league office I don’t roll on Saturdays), and who has the shirt for now and almost certainly will start come the opener vs. Wales in November. Barring any injury or unforeseen circumstances.
Today I’m here to tell you that one of those very unforeseen circumstances should be Brandon Vazquez.
If you’re unaware, Vazquez is the striker for FC Cincinnati, perhaps the surprise team in MLS this season. Cincy had spent their entire existence holding the league’s wooden spoon for their first three seasons. They’ve leaped up to sixth in the Eastern Conference this season, mostly on the back of Vazquez (and also playmaker Luciano Acosta, but he’s Argentine and thus not an answer to our national team-based prayers. Nice guy though I’m sure).
Vazquez has 14 goals in 23 appearances this season, the second-most in the league. He’s done that while taking no penalties, which has helped him lead the league in non-penalty expected goals at 11.3.
Need some visual aids?
What you’ll notice about Vazquez is while the finishes themselves are relatively simple, he’s always in the right spot. This kind of movement and instinct doesn’t just happen, and to have it at just 23 portends a very bright future. Vazquez is also a goddamn house, listed at 6-foot-2, 185 (and could fill out even more), and is very mobile. He just has a sixth sense for timing and finding space that consistently finds himself with the ball at his feet close to goal and with time to finish. As they say, you can’t teach that stuff.
And Vazquez’s numbers aren’t some one-season explosion that will revert to the mean come next season. From last year to this year, Vazquez’s shots-per-90 has gone from 2.84 to 2.94. His shots-on-target per 90 has gone from 1.16 to 1.36. His shots-on-target percentage has gone from 40 percent to 46. His shooting percentage from 15 percent to 22 percent. Even where there is what looks like a pretty big leap, it’s easily explained by merely going from age 22 to 23 and getting to start full-time in a much more competent side that FC Cincinnati has become.
And unlike his competition for that slot for the national team, he hasn’t gone cold like Ferreira. Vazquez hasn’t gone more than three games without scoring this season, except for one three-game scoreless streak, which he then backed up with the six-in-six streak he’s currently on. Ferreira started the season on fire, with five goals in his first six games, but those were bunched into just two of those games. Ferreira has two goals in his last seven games, three in his last 14, and it’s not due to lack of chances, as he’s put 16 shots on target in that time.
And that’s the issue with Ferreira. He’s not really a natural striker, more in the false-nine role that he’s admittedly taken to from being a midfielder, and while he’s better equipped to link to the wide forwards and midfield in the US’s 4-3-3 set-up, the fear has always been that in a World Cup game, where chances are at a premium and the ball’s at his feet in one of the few looks he’ll get, he just doesn’t have that ruthlessness. Vazquez is far more of a battering ram, looking to get in behind a defense instead of dropping off of it, but he could be a horse for a certain course. Say against England, when the US likely won’t have the ball as much, Vazquez on the counter is a bigger threat than Ferreira. He’s also a different option in games against Wales and Iran, where the US figures to have the ball more, if only off the bench, and the US might have to get a little cross-heavy or just need someone to occupy central defenders. Vazquez is just better in the box than Ferreira, taking more touches there, getting more passes there, and finishing better when presented the chance to do so.
As far as defensively, Vazquez is just about as willing of a presser as Ferreira is, with the former 9.2 pressures in the attacking third per 90 minutes and the latter 10.8.
The US only has two friendlies left before Berhalter has to announce the squad. With the move to a 26-man squad instead of 23, it’s hard to fathom that Vazquez won’t at least be on the plane. But he needs a look in one, if not both of those games against Japan and Saudi Arabia, which he hasn’t gotten yet. Sure, Pefok could keep scoring for Union Berlin as he did this weekend, but Berhalter seems to have given up on him. Pepi may score a goal again…maybe. Perhaps we should just settle for him starting for Augsburg first.
Also, there’s the small issue of keeping Vazquez away from the Mexico National team. Berhalter said “he’s close” when he didn’t bring him in for the June games for the national team, but that could mean exactly that or it could be something of a brush-off. But at the moment, there is no other option other than Ferreira. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s scoring, and he’s only getting better.
It’s time to believe in Brandon Vazquez. Honestly, what do we have to lose?