The U.S. men's national team took the first small step toward the 2026 World Cup with a 2-1 loss to Serbia on Wednesday in Los Angeles.
Brandon Vazquez gave the U.S. the lead, Luka Ilic tied it just before halftime and Veljko Simic put Serbia ahead a minute into the second half.
Less than two months after bowing out of the 2022 World Cup, the Americans -- bearing no resemblance to the squad that lost to the Netherlands in the Round of 16 on Dec. 3 -- fielded an inexperienced team that had seven players in the starting lineup make their international debuts, with nine of the 11 starters age 24 or younger.
Gaga Slonina, at 18 years, 255 days old, became the youngest goalkeeper to play for the USMNT, surpassing Tony Meola, who made his debut at 19 years, 106 days on June 7, 1988, vs. Ecuador. Slonina made four saves.
The biggest change for the U.S. was assistant coach Anthony Hudson being named interim head coach to replace Gregg Berhalter. U.S. Soccer continues to investigate allegations of misconduct 31 years ago by Berhalter with his then-girlfriend, now wife, which were brought by the parents of U.S. player Gio Reyna.
Berhalter's contract expired at the end of 2022.
Vazquez gave the U.S. the lead in the 29th minute with a snap header inside the left post. He became the 59th player to score in his U.S. debut. Vazquez, 24, had 18 regular-season goals for FC Cincinnati last season, including six headers to tie for the Major League Soccer lead.
Ilic got the equalizer in the 43rd minute on a 22-yard free kick, and Simic ran onto a loose ball to score from distance to make it 2-1 in the 46th.
Cade Cowell tried to get to level the score in the 56th minute, but he first fired a shot off the right post, then the left. The U.S. had 20 shots (five on target) to 11 (six on target) for Serbia.
The U.S. plays Colombia in Carson, Calif., on Saturday.
--Field Level Media