Brandon Vazquez's USMNT case grows during MLS Golden Boot challenge

Quick, which US men’s national team-eligible player has the most goals during the 2022 MLS season through Week 23?

We don’t blame you if you thought of FC Dallas forward Jesus Ferreira (12g/5a) considering the key role he played in the Yanks qualifying for the Qatar 2022 World Cup – and seems likely to have at this fall's tournament.

But the answer is actually FC Cincinnati striker Brandon Vazquez, whose 13g/5a put him second on the active Golden Boot presented by Audi list after NYCFC loaned Taty Castellanos to LaLiga side Girona last week. He only trails Austin FC midfielder Sebastian Driussi, whose 14g/7a make him arguably the Landon Donovan MLS MVP frontrunner.

While Pat Noonan didn’t address the USMNT topic after their 4-4 draw at Inter Miami CF Saturday night, Cincy’s head coach clearly feels Vazquez should be getting more consideration nationally after both he and Brenner bagged braces in the Eastern Conference clash.

“Brandon continues to show why he should have been an All-Star in the first place and Brenner has continued to make plays, whether it's goals or assists for us over the past couple of months,” Noonan said. “I think the form of those two is certainly strong right now. And we know we have to continue to find ways to get them in good spots to finish plays off like they have been.”

Vazquez was omitted from the 26-man roster that’ll represent the league vs. Liga MX at the MLS All-Star Game presented by Target on Aug. 10. He also hasn’t earned a USMNT cap or call-up, though manager Gregg Berhalter said “he’s close” after the June camp roster was announced and Vazquez himself has said “anything could happen” before Group B play begins in November.

The upcoming September camp may be Vazquez’s last chance to impress, when the United States plays AFC teams Japan (Sept. 23) and Saudi Arabia (Sept. 27) in tune-up friendlies across Europe. In a wide-open striker pool, Vazquez has roughly six weeks to possibly force Berhalter’s hand.

As much as Vazquez may be thinking about the USMNT, Saturday he was focused on the result at hand. He scored twice in the 81st to 86th minutes off set-ups from teammate Alvaro Barreal, only for a 97th-minute equalizer from Miami defender Chris McVey to result in two points dropped at DRV PNK Stadium.

“Feels like a loss to us,” Vazquez said. “I mean, we had the three points in the bag, and we just let them go. But we take the positives out of this game, I think we put in a good shift on the road. Being down and coming back and getting the lead and knowing that we can fight all the way through 90 minutes and score four goals, I think that's a positive we take out of this game tonight.”

Cincy and Vazquez, whose 13 non-penalty kick goals are the most in MLS this season, sit seventh in the Eastern Conference standings, amassing 29 points with 11 regular-season games remaining. The Orange & Blue have never made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs since entering as an expansion team in 2019, but rather sunk to three consecutive last-place finishes league-wide (Wooden Spoon).

Plenty of credit for this improvement goes to Vazquez, whose 18 goal contributions in 2022 exceed the 16 he stacked up from 2017-21 across time with Atlanta United and Cincy. Now, will a USMNT call follow suit?