BLAINE, Minn. – The choruses, they keep growing: Brandon Vazquez for the US men’s national team?
It’s not his call, of course, but FC Dallas winger Paul Arriola feels the FC Cincinnati striker has a strong case while enjoying a career year, sitting second in the MLS Golden Boot presented by Audi race with 14 goals and four assists.
And with the FIFA World Cup a short three-and-a-half months away, Arriola sees every reason why his fellow Chula Vista, Calif., native and former Club Tijuana attacker could be a solution to the Yanks’ No. 9 spot that nobody’s quite locked down.
“He's grown into this spectacular goalscorer in the league,” Arriola said Monday at Minnesota United FC’s training facility as MLS All-Star Week gets underway. “I think 100 percent he deserves a chance.
“When you look at his movements and you look at the things he's doing – a lot of people talk about the 9 position as kind of being unsettled – he's a real, traditional 9. He's good at holding the ball up, he still makes runs. He's super dangerous in the box with his feet, with his head. I'm looking at highlights every single week and this guy is scoring one or two goals, assists. He's on fire.”
Arriola, who went to high school with Vazquez’s older brother, isn’t the only one taking notice of Vazquez’s breakout season. FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira, perhaps the only USMNT striker perceived as a lock for Qatar 2022, said Vazquez “has been having an amazing year” and he “likes what he does.”
The ultimate decision lies with USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter, naturally, and he’s taking notice before September camp arrives, the last international window before the program’s likely-26-man roster descends on the Middle East for the late-fall tournament.
Vazquez revealed Berhalter’s staff was in touch as recently as this past weekend, after he scored in their 3-1 win over the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Union.
“I talked to [Berhalter’s] assistant coach a couple days ago after our game [against] Philadelphia,” Vazquez said. “They said they're happy with my performances, to keep it up and there's a national team camp coming up that I could possibly be called into.”
Never capped at the senior international level, Vazquez remains eligible for Mexico as well. He’s left the door open there, and Berhalter name-checked the 23-year-old after the June camp roster was announced – acknowledging in subsequent interviews just how wide-open the striker position remains before Group B play begins Nov. 21 against a Wales squad featuring LAFC star Gareth Bale.
Just how motivating is this all for Vazquez? He was rather direct, six weeks out from the USMNT’s upcoming Europe-based friendlies against World Cup qualifiers from Asia, when they’ll face Japan on Sept. 23 and Saudi Arabia on Sept. 27.
“I've got a couple of goals in the back of my mind,” Vazquez said. “It's helping Cincinnati get in the playoffs, fight for that Golden Boot and at the end of the year trying to get in that World Cup roster.”
Asked what’s sparked his emergence, Vazquez plainly said it’s “an opportunity and hunger” as well as “a lot of confidence” that head coach Pat Noonan has instilled in him. Playing alongside club-record signing Brenner (reported $13 million transfer from Brazil’s Sao Paulo) and fellow 2022 MLS All-Star Luciano Acosta sure helps, too.
That aforementioned trio has Cincy at sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings, a far cry from their three straight bottom-of-the-league finishes upon joining MLS as an expansion team in 2019.
“We all bring different characteristics to the team and I think we're dangerous,” said Vazquez, who earned his All-Star roster spot as a replacement for Taty Castellanos, New York City FC’s striker who’s since been loaned to LaLiga side Girona FC.
“We can create a lot of chances. Brenner, Lucho and I are really good at finishing on goal and we're sharp right now. We're flying.”
Flying indeed, perhaps into a World Cup roster spot or the looming USMNT camp?
“He deserved to be [an All-Star] in the first place; just so excited for him,” said Arriola, noting he used to drive Vazquez across the US-Mexico border to Club Tijuana training sessions. “If he gets a US opportunity it's about what he does with it. And also if he gets an opportunity, it's because the coach sees something in him. That's kind of how I'll leave it.”
As for Vazquez himself, the broader message remains: Keep scoring and perhaps he’ll soon join former US youth national teammates like Chelsea winger Christian Pulisic and Leeds United midfielder Tyler Adams at the senior level.
“Nothing is impossible; anything can happen,” Vazquez said. “Right now, if I just keep performing and helping Cincinnati win and score goals, anything can happen. I'm very hopeful that it is possible.”