SAN JOSE, Calif. – Brandon Vazquez didn’t come right out and confirm it explicitly, probably out of respect to the embargos that are typically imposed on the official announcements of such things.
“I believe so,” said the FC Cincinnati striker with a flicker of a smile. “Maybe. Perhaps. Likely.”
But Vazquez’s conversation last week with MLSsoccer.com during MLS’s media day at the San Jose McEnery Convention Center left little doubt he’ll be on the next US men’s national team roster when it drops on Wednesday, for the January camp in Carson, California that features friendlies vs. Serbia (Jan. 25) and Colombia (Jan. 28).
Or that the Mexican-American dual national will proudly accept that call.
“It’s a big milestone for me,” said Vazquez, a youth national teams mainstay who starred for the US at the 2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup alongside age-group colleagues like Christian Pulisic, Tyler Adams, Luca de la Torre and Haji Wright, to name a few who advanced into the senior squad and took part in the full-size version in Qatar this past fall.
“I mean, growing up with the national team, and then seeing other teammates get the opportunity and thriving with the men's national team, and not being there, sometimes I compare, you know? So I always wish I'm there, too. I've been wanting to get there for a long time.”
This long-awaited (and first) nod is no great surprise considering the 24-year-old’s breakout 2022, when he banged in 18 goals and eight assists for a revitalized FCC side, finishing tied for fourth on MLS’s Golden Boot presented by Audi chart en route to Best XI presented by Continental Tire and All-Star honors. It’s felt more like a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ – and for which nation.
Growing up in San Diego in a family full of rabid Chivas Guadalajara supporters, Vazquez has been open about both his love for his Mexican heritage and the openness he holds to El Tri as a result. He actually began his youth international career in green, white and red before a roster cut at U-17 level led him toward the USYNTs.
But with Mexico leaderless and in transition following the departure of manager Gerardo “Tata” Martino immediately following their disappointing 2022 World Cup campaign, the inaction of his parents’ homeland is seemingly simplifying his choice for him – though it should be noted that nothing about January camp would permanently commit him to the northern side of the border rivalry.
“Still no conversation. Nobody's called, so...” Vazquez said when asked about El Tri’s interest in him, his voice trailing off into a silence that spoke volumes.
“But the US has called, yeah.”
January camps are generally just a first step towards a meaningful USMNT career. Many participants never manage to work their way further up the pecking order from the winter gathering, typically dominated by MLS-based players. And this year’s edition could prove particularly transient given the program’s head coach position remains unoccupied after Gregg Berhalter’s deal expired, with erstwhile assistant Anthony Hudson overseeing the upcoming sessions at the LA Galaxy’s Dignity Health Sports Park.
Whatever happens in the days ahead, though, the long, difficult gap since his last international opportunity has Vazquez savoring this chance as he aims to extend the great leap forward he and Cincy made together.
“It definitely feels really, really good to be back. A lot of hard work went to getting back here. So yeah, it’s very satisfying,” said Vazquez, who admitted he’s watched the simmering discourse around the USMNT’s No. 9 role and believes he can be the one to solve it.
“Last year, I had 18 goals [in the] regular season,” he explained when asked about his outlook for 2023. “I just want to top that. So it's always besting myself, I guess – for me, that's always the goal, is do better than I did before and keep improving.”
Stay or go?
That silence from the Mexican federation contrasts sharply with the keen interest Chivas have taken in him.
During media day, Vazquez confirmed the reports of the Liga MX heavyweights’ recent hefty transfer bid for his services. As ambitious as he is for an eventual experience or two abroad, he also affirmed his desire to stick around southern Ohio to spearhead the Knifey Lions’ hunt for hardware in year two under the new regime led by head coach Pat Noonan and general manager Chris Albright.
It can only have helped that his current club inked him to a new contract extension in August that runs through 2025, and carries a significant pay bump.
“It's pretty exciting, a team that I grew up having a jersey of in my closet really wanting me,” said Vazquez of the Goats’ $7 million approach. “But at the end of the day, Cincinnati had the conversation with us that I was a really big piece of the team and they really needed me.
“I'm happy where I'm at with Cincinnati. I love the coaching staff. I love the teammates. I'm very comfortable, and I think we could win this – we could win it all this year. So yeah, I wanted to see with Cincinnati what the best move for me is, and we thought it was to stay.”
Vazquez and his FCC colleagues have a sense of unfinished business after their first-ever Audi MLS Cup Playoffs voyage took them on a Round One upset of the New York Red Bulls and into the Eastern Conference Semifinals last fall. There they lost a tenacious duel with eventual East champs Philadelphia Union, former home of Noonan and Albright and a key philosophical influence of Cincy’s pedal-to-the-metal pressing style.
“I want to go back already,” said Vazquez, wincing as he recalled that 1-0 result at Subaru Park on Oct. 20. “I wish we could go back in time.”
That and the capture of some cross-state bragging rights vs. their Ohio rivals the Columbus Crew – whom FCC have defeated just once in 10 MLS meetings – tops the to-do list at TQL Stadium.
“Philly beat us in the end and knocked us out. So I want revenge, for sure,” he said. “We want to beat Philly. We want to beat Columbus, you know that Hell is Real Derby is big for us, too. So those are two teams we really want to beat this year.”
Vazquez knows full well that if he and Cincy can consolidate themselves among the East elite, it will only further strengthen his USMNT case. And elevate that price tag for future suitors, too.
“Yeah,” he said with a nod and a grin. “Hopefully it keeps going up.”