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Who should the USMNT start vs. Panama?

USMNT XI Honduras 2014



CARSON, Calif.– With a familiar foe up next, and a five-match winless streak to snap, the U.S. Men’s National team will be looking for a more complete performance against Panama on Sunday than the the one put forth in last week’s 3-2 loss to Chile.

The big question heading into Sunday’s match is just how different a look will we see from Jurgen Klinsmann’s team. Will he trot out the 3-5-2 formation again, and will he use a similar-looking starting lineup, or shake things up considerably?

One potential lineup move Klinsmann could make is deploying Lee Nguyen in an attacking midfield role. In my recent column, I made the argument that it’s time for Klinsmann to give Nguyen an extended run as a starting playmaker.

Will Klinsmann give him a nod against Panama? That is an option, but there is another more likely scenario to consider as we ponder the lineup we’re most likely to see on Sunday.

Here is the projected lineup we could see starting against Panama:

Projected USMNT XI vs. Panama

Some thoughts:

Word out of camp is that Gyasi Zardes has looked very good. His impressive cameo against Chile has earned him a look, and starting in his home stadium would be good motivation.

If Zardes starts, then Dempsey will remain in his attacking midfield role, unless Klinsmann chooses to give him a rest in order to give Lee Nguyen a start.

Brek Shea and DeAndre Yedlin should reprise their wingback roles in this 3-5-2/5-3-2 system. In fact, the back five should remain the same.

Now, if Klinsmann decides he wants to go with a 4-3-3? That would be a tricky one. We would probably see the same players as above, with Birnbaum sitting, and Lee Nguyen coming in as a midfielder and Dempsey as a third forward. Shea and Yedlin would be deployed as fullbacks. This deployment could lead to defensive issues though, so a 3-5-2/5-3-2 seems more likely.

And a 4-4-2? Klinsmann would have his hands full trying to put together a starting lineup with say a diamond midfield. Could he deploy Zardes wide left, as the LA Galaxy have done at times? That’s possible, with Yedlin on the right wing, but then who would play right back? Could we see a Birnbaum or Shane O’Neill at right back?

Given the personnel available, staying with the same formation that started against Chile makes sense, though another halftime switch to a 4-4-2 could be in the cards (not that it would be advised given the fullback options).

What do you think of our projected starting lineup? What changes would you make to it? Which formation would you use against Panama?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Really hope Nguyen and Ibarra get the start. This would be the perfect game to do this. We don’t need to win this game this game. This is an opportunity to give these guys a ahot.

    • SwerveZ, I think what you’ve noticed is not a loss of skill but a loss of morale — a loss of individual confidence and team spirit. Whatever virtues Klinsmann may be thought to have as coach of the MNT (if any), he plainly has no clue what it takes to get the most out of his players. This shows on the field.

  2. Ibarra has been with the team for the past 5 games and has seen about 90 seconds of play at the very end of one match. These friendlys are not about wins, they are about trying out new talent. Why would Klinsmann *not* test, (arguably), the fastest and most-enduring player on his roster???

    • A lot of people here believe, mistakenly, that it is all about wins and are already calling for Klinsmann’s ouster. But you’re right, he should get at least 20 minutes, especially if the US is ahead.

  3. I just wish JK would admit that some of the spine is broken and start to work towards replacements. Bradley hasn’t looked good anywhere in over a year. Dempsey is starting to look like an aging Carlos Valderrama in his closing days in MLS. That is, I’ll join the attack from my little spot in the middle but don’t expect me to track back or play any serious defense. Altidore… if we changed out Dempsey and Bradley and he still isn’t looking good… join them on the bench

    We need to give minutes to people that are going to be available next cycle and that can only happen if JK stops giving minutes to guys that are in decline or will be too old. Why is Wondo getting any minutes at all? Jones has about one-two more games in this 3-5-2 experiment to show he can do it. I think he can still play DM though

    • Dennis

      “I just wish JK would admit that some of the spine is broken and start to work towards replacements. Bradley hasn’t looked good anywhere in over a year.”

      Mikey is a year younger than Nguyen, for example, and far, far more proven and versatile. I assume you want to give Lee a shot. Why wouldn’t any sensible person want to give Mikey a shot as well?

      “Dempsey is starting to look like an aging Carlos Valderrama in his closing days in MLS. That is, I’ll join the attack from my little spot in the middle but don’t expect me to track back or play any serious defense.”

      This is Clint’s first January camp. I expect it will take him a while to get going. I’m all for looking for the next reliable goal scorer. But that is something the next guy will have to take from Clint at the point of a gun, not something you just hand to people. I see no reason to discard Clint, who remains the USMNT’s most reliable and proven goal scorer, until you absolutely have to.

      “Altidore… if we changed out Dempsey and Bradley and he still isn’t looking good… join them on the bench”

      I’m sure Zardes’ recent form will light a fire under Jozy…. or it should anyway.

      “We need to give minutes to people that are going to be available next cycle and that can only happen if JK stops giving minutes to guys that are in decline or will be too old.”

      In baseball they used to talk about how on the great teams, players forced their way up from the minor leagues because they were too good to keep there any longer. And that is better than having to bring them up because you have a need.

      These new guys have to force their way on not just be handed things. We don’t get to see the practices so we don’t know how Mikey, Deuce and Jozy are looking relative to the new guys.

    • As I have pointed out before, JK has to prepare two teams. One to win this year’s Gold Cup and then play in the Copa America in 2016, and another for the World Cup in 2018. Despite what you think, Dempsey is still one of our best 11 and will be starting in the Gold Cup and maybe the Copa America, also. People tend to forget that Dempsey didn’t start playing professionally until he was 21, relatively late for pro footballers. So, he hasn’t put as much wear and tear on his body as someone who started at 18 and is now at Dempsey’s age. I think Dempsey will still be an asset in 2016. He’ll probably retire after that. Look at Totti at Roma for someone who can be valuable even in their late 30’s; and he’s not an isolated example. Have you seen Steve Gerrard play lately? He will be 35 in a few months and is still playing regularly and turning in some great performances.

  4. ———–Altidore—–Zardes————

  5. Assuming 3-5-2-, I’d prefer to see Dempsey up top, with either Mix or Nguyen playing behind the forwards with a someone like Wil Trapp playing next to Bradley so he has more freedom to get forward. I thought Bradley and Mix did well in the past game, but I prefer a stay at home midfielder to hold in front of the back 3. Perhaps Perry Kitchen could play that role as well rather than Trapp…

  6. I like the 3-5-2 for us going forward, I don’t think this is a short term experiment.
    The current players in camp may be part of the overall strategy, just not necessarily in their best spots due to personnel..So I see experiments at certain positions, but have a feeling JK sees this as a viable solution through the 2016 cycle
    It fits our personnel when everyone is available:
    -Fabian, Yedlin, Chandler are all a good fit. Garza has the ball skills, and defends well, just slower
    -Cameron’s versatility to play any of the 3 back spots or DM fits him well
    -It allows Bradley to sit deeper
    -We have zero skilled attackers on the wings right now
    -Jozy plays better when not alone up top
    -Besler, Brooks, Jones, & Cam all pass well out of the back-sorry Omar
    -Bedoya can contribute better
    There’s a lot of upside to this

    Here’s what I see as serious roadblocks:
    -Deuce must be 1 of the 2 forwards. He’s just not an Attacking Mid anymore. He will defend sometimes but he not the mid he used to be-won’t track back- But he can still score
    -Nguyen or Mix or maybe even Bedoya needs to be the AM…
    -Jermaine can’t be the center back. He could be the RCB, but he’s too short for that CB spot, and he will have more discipline. JK wants his there bc he’s the heart of that team right now, but ultimately CB not his spot.
    -Omar would probably be the best fit defensively in this formation, but all the other CBs are much better passers

    There’s a lot of upside to this, makes use of our current players, and covers our biggest weakness

  7. What I think we’ll see from Klinsmann

    ____Bradley______ Jones__________Zardes___

      • haha, I assumed this as well.

        Jack, had you said ” What I’d like to see” no one would laugh at you but you can’t honestly think this is what jk is going to do….. start 2 new CBs, move Jones back to mid, Wood at LWB, Shea at ST (the least crazy part of your lineup )

      • I was just joking, based on Klinsmann’s love for always giving a few guys a new position.

        Honestly I think the lineup above is probably about right.

  8. A 3-5-2 or 5-3-2 can work but Jones and Bradley need to be the holding mids. I don’t care if Jones can’t make it to Russia at CM but right now he needs to be there. Having a natural CB with size certainly helps us out on defending and attacking set pieces. Also having an extra natural forward should help candidates such as Johannson, Agudelo, etc get onto the field.

    F. Johnson_____________________Chandler/Yedlin

    Starting open competition:
    LCB: Besler or Ream
    CB: Brooks or Gonzales
    RCB: Cameron, Birnabaum, or Orozco


    Why is Rimando always on his tippy toes in these pictures??? So he can look like he’s 5’9 instead of 5’7?

    And he makes Big Boi Jozy go in the front…..

  10. I dont like Mix there at all.

    And that is the problem with Mix for me. He isn’t good enough to take over the spots where he should be playing. I doubt I am alone in my thinking.

  11. A lot of talk in these comment sections about “playing at this level”. The best player in Panama is a miss table MLS striker in Perez. Every one on this team should be able to play ” at this level “

    • First, FC Dallas had 13 teams beneath them by the end of the regular season. Second, Blas Perez had 14 goals and 7 assists across all competitions last season. Third, Panama topped their group in the last Gold Cup, a group that included Mexico who they beat again in the semifinals on their way to finishing as runners up. So I show them some respect.

      Also, of course we beat them!

    • When people say “playing at this level” they generally mean good enough to play against European talent and/or Mexico, not lower level CONCACAF teams.

  12. I prefer Zardes to Shea at wingback. As Ives mentioned he has played there for the Galaxy and he has as much speed as Shea and is capable of getting behind defenses. He is also willing to defend and may be a better defender than Shea. As to other comments above, Dempsey has usually played as an attacking midfielder in his club career. At Fulham he was usually a left winger. I remember when he started at Tottenham he played more defensively and didn’t attack much, obviously at the direction of his coach/manager. He is not a real good defender, but it’s incorrect to say he never defends. He plays the role assigned to him. And I don’t understand why Old School doesn’t expect Zardes to have a good match. I suspect Chile’s B team is better than Panama and they will be playing on the Galaxy home field, so I predict he will have a good game. Also, Zardes, like Dempsey can play either attacking mid or up top. I don’t know or care if the US plays a 3-5-2 or a 4-4-2, but being at home, they should play a lot of attacking soccer, so it should be a good one to watch.

    • “I prefer Zardes to Shea at wingback. As Ives mentioned he has played there for the Galaxy and he has as much speed as Shea and is capable of getting behind defenses. He is also willing to defend and may be a better defender than Shea. ”

      I’m glad to hear another opinion on this, i was going to suggest it but i’ve not seen enough of Zardes to form an educated opinion on his defensive skills but I think he brings equal attack to Shea so if he can defend I don’t see why JK wouldn’t give it a shot. also this would allow Dempsey to move back to ST and perhaps Nguyen at cam or mix there with another DM playing, as people have suggested. I personally like Shea and see more potential than other fans but I also recognize Zardes’ talens; if he can defend better then I’m for him getting a LWB shot.

      On the Dempsey defending subject. he puts in minimal effort defensively, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But as time moves on his 90′-energy will slowly decrease thus I see keeping him up top as the most optimal move. As a ST, sure he may drift back a little more in the attack but asking him to be the cam seems to be enabling a 3ST system.

      • DDFBL,

        “On the Dempsey defending subject. he puts in minimal effort defensively, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But as time moves on his 90′-energy will slowly decrease thus I see keeping him up top as the most optimal move”

        Dempsey made his money by scoring goals. Everything about him is geared to that. Also this is his first January camp as far as I know. He has said he wants to be at Copa America so I won’t question his commitment. He’s an established veteran who is working up to the season and the Gold Cup.

        All of which means that I don’t expect to see the best of him in these friendlies.

      • fair enough but to be honest was your comment in disagreement with me? I agreed with all you said essentially. I feel his best use is at the top instead of cam, so he can as you said, score goals

      • DDFBL,

        I do not disagree with you on anything you said in particular.

        Dempsey has always posed the same managerial dilemma throughout his career. He does not really have a formal position and this plays havoc with where you play everyone else.

        But when you really need to score you want him around.

        In international football, player availability is always uncertain so Deuce’s positional ambiguity can overall be seen as a positive. I also have to assume he is a great locker room guy since I’ve never heard anything to the contrary.

        I assume JK brought him in to mentor these new guys. I would think JK would normally not play him vs. Panama just to give the new guys a look. But with the pressure to get a win I can see Clint at least being available as a sub.

        And besides, Clint is almost certainly on the Gold Cup team and may be on the Copa America squad so it might be a good idea for the new guys to get a feel for what it is like to play with our unorthodox midfielder/striker/ lazy spectator on the field.

    • I’m genuinely glad that we don’t all take ourselves too seriously on this site and can sometimes just post a funny comment for the simple reason that it’s funny and may elicit a laugh. I certainly chuckled. I mean, it’s hilarious! Who would SERIOUSLY think putting a guy who is an extremely promising FORWARD, who was one of, if not the, highest scoring American in MLS last season, who has at times been played OUT OF POSITION in the midfield to accommodate the best American field player in history, at fullback is a legitimately good idea? A comedian, that’s who!

      Thanks for the laugh, Gary. That felt good, but let’s get back to serious business now. I think we need to discuss using Wondolowski as a sweeper-keeper-defensive-forward….

      • I’m not sure what your are saying, but it seems to me that you are reading something in my comment that I did not put and did not imply or intend to imply. I probably saw 75% of Dempsey’s games in England and have seen almost every game Zardes has played, so I think I have enough information to make good judgments about both of them. My point is that both can play (and have played) either on the wing, as a striker, or in Dempsey’s case, as a CAM. I did not advocate a particular position for either but would like to see both of them playing.

  13. Dempsey no longer is a starter. I rather see fresh face starting.

    I like Jones, but Jones isn’t CB and Jones leads from midfield.

    • I love these “fresh face” suggestions, which, in my not so humble opinion can be boiled down to: “I don’t think Dempsey is very good. Besides, he’s 31 . We should start an anonymous young player who is much better and very promising. Said young player to be named later.”

      If you’re going to say Demspey is no longer a starter (which I strongly disagree with, but that’s another topic), at least look the roster and see who you think is more fit to start.

      *rant over

      • After Lee’s season in the MLS I’d say he absolutely deserves real shot. I know he’s not all that young either, but I actually think he has more of an all around game than dempsey (who generally has flashes of brilliance, surrounded by huge stretches of doing nothing).

        I also think Mix could play this high and allow for another player to enter the field as as a DM, which is now possibly our deepest position.

      • Boy, some funny comments here. Nguyen is now playing well in MLS, but he couldn’t cut it in Europe, flaming out in the Dutch League. Dempsey merely is one of the best US players ever, scoring the most EPL goals by an American ever, coming in 4th for Player of the Year in the EPL and second highest goal total for the USMNT. In case you’ve forgotten he did score 2 goals in the WC and the first one was truly world class. Meanwhile Nguyen has yet to start an international game.

      • You are right, the hell with last year’s number for Nguyen, let’s concentrate on his failures of 5 years ago.

        Better yet, let’s talk about Dempsey’s glory days of 3 years ago instead of his lifeless game vs. Chile or his below average 2014 MLS playoffs.

      • Louis Z.

        Clint has had a more than few lifeless friendlies for the USMNT. Maybe they keep him around because along with those he has more than few great games where scores clutch goals in vital games.

        But you have a point .

        In his last great game for the USMNT Lee proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he can dominate a game, score great clutch goals for the USMNT and clearly is international class. Based on that game, JK should move on from Clint..

      • Dempsey has been terrible lately. Dempsey is no Donovan in carrying the USNT, Dempsey time has pass. The problem is finding the #10 type

      • A year ago a lot of people here were saying the same thing and Dempsey went on to score 14 or 15 goals for Seattle and scored 2 in the WC. So, who should we believe, you or our own eyes?

      • Note: that’s in MLS, Dempsey is 32, and vs Germany and Belgium Dempsey was mediocre and miss clear chances.

        I am 41 can’t longer run 10k under 39 minutes. age slows you down with reflex, coordination, speed and ability to recover quicker.

      • Also, in 2013, Donovan was our Maradonna-era-1986 by carrying USNT in the Gold Cup, destroying very team in CONCACAF. And in 2014, Donovan wasn’t same player, Donovan slower, sluggish without that creative spark.

      • That was in April that Donovan was slower and sluggish. As i pointed out last summer, during the May camp Howard said Donovan was one of the best players there and when he went back to MLS he proceeded to score something like 10 goals and then concentrated on assists and had something like 18 to lead the league. He also played 90 almost every game. In June in a game in Denver, he was one of the fastest guys on the field in the last 5 minutes. You are just repeating something you heard, you have no real idea what you are talking about. I live near LA and saw almost every Galaxy game on TV.

  14. I personally would like to see Perry Kitchen get some time on the field as a defensive mid. But I’ll admit to being biased in that regard.

  15. I like the 3-5-2 in theory and I don’t really care who starts in these games because our first team lineup will be better suited this setup. So as long as the first teamers are playing in their position once the 3-5-2 is used in the Gold Cup, then I’m happy.

    And this is what I think that will look like:


    • This almost looks like a 3-2-3-2 or a 5-3-2. 5-3-2 is what most three man back lines usually turn into. The irony is most fans think it’s a more aggressive and attack minded formation. While it can be with the right players, with a talent pool like ours it will be more defensive against the better teams in the world.

    • For the moment I’d swap Chandler for Yedlin, at least until Yedlin gets club playing time.
      Additionally Brooks deserves to be looked at (possibly in place of Jones in the back 3.
      Switch the sides of Bradley & Diskerud (Mix is better suited on the left) or move Diskerud forward for Bedoya and use Jones or Williams to partner Bradley.

      Lots of options to plug players into various spots. Will be interesting to see how things play out.

  16. Well, a 4-4-2 isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility. This isn’t anything I would ever do, but given Klinsmann’s penchant for playing guys out of position, his stated preference for Dempsey to play behind two strikers, his tendency to run out as many central midfielders as possible, and his desire for Jones to play CB, I could see him trying this if he really wanted to roll a 4-4-2 diamond:

    —— Zardes — Jozy ——
    ———- Dempsey ——–
    —– Nguyen —— Mix —–
    ———— Bradley ———-
    Besler – Hedges – Jones – Yedlin
    ———– Johnson ———–

    This probably plays more like a 4-3-3 since Dempsey, much as I love the guy, never actually drops back to defend. Besler at LB isn’t ideal, but the guy has a good soccer IQ, played there a little bit in his rookie season in MLS, is naturally left footed and has decent wheels. How much he provides in the attack is up for debate, but he’s certainly a better LB option than Shea. This also gives Zardes time up front, Hedges time in the back (though I could see that spot going to Birnbaum based on his play against Chile) and gets Lee Nguyen on the field from the jump.

    Would play way too narrow for my liking, but again, it’s something I could see Klinsmann doing.

    • “This probably plays more like a 4-3-3 since Dempsey, much as I love the guy, never actually drops back to defend. ”

      +1, in the Chile game he was up front most of the game even tho he was listed as the cam. I even saw Jozy (….) getting back defensively. Dempsey has shown ability to work there earlier in his career but yea, at this point he’s best used as a full ST. I only foresee Zardes starting as a ST if JK sits Dempsey for Nguyen at cam to give him a run; or maybe that’s just what I’d do.

      • Zardes possibly could pull off striker, but his top attacking attribute seems to be slanting runs out of midfield.

    • for sure, but i think that is why he specified a “diamond midfield” being tricky. a box midfield is another story. JK was obsessed with it for awhile (Torres at LM and Williams at RM, for example).

  17. I don’t expect Zardes to have a strong showing this match, but I am interested in seeing if he’s capable at this level over the course of several matches.

    Any defensive pressure he can take off Altidore by clearing up space is a positive for our scoring chances.

    • Why wouldn’t you expect a strong showing? Panama is inferior competition to Chile, and I thought Zardes looked pretty good agaist Chile.

      After all the ragging he gets from various camps for not being polished or good enough, I would love to see him prove everybody wrong.

      • I’d hardly call my opinion “ragging”.

        To clarify, whether it’s due to being tentative, rusty, or nervous I’ve seen far too many Nats start slowing in their debuts and pick up pace (or fade away) in the subsequent matches as they get a feel for the level.

  18. Klinsmann has shown he’s not fond of giving players a run out in their home stadium. It would be nice to see Zardes get a long look, but it would be surprising.

  19. The problem with the lineup predicted here is that it’s not a 3-5-2, it’s essentially a 3-4-3. One of the top three will need to drop and defend against better teams, otherwise there will be both room to exploit on the wings like in the last game and the central midfield. It asks an awful lot of Bradley and Diskerud, and Mixx isn’t exactly defensively inclined. I’m all for giving Jozy a strike partner and support, but a deep lying central Dempsey is a bit of a defensive liability at this point in his career. He’d be better in the deeper striker role with Nguyen as the advanced CM, as long as he had defensive discipline. Klinsmann may probably be able to get away with this against Panama, but I’m not sure it will work against better teams.


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