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Who should the U.S. U-23s start vs. Panama?

U-23 USMNT lineup vs. Canada 11

photo by Peter G. Aiken/USA Today Sports


Qualification to the next round may already be in hand, but there is still something to play for.

That something is first place.

The U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team will conclude group play in its CONCACAF Olympic qualifying campaign with a match-up against Panama on Tuesday night (9:30 pm ET, NBC Universo). The Panamanians are currently in third place, and will be desperate to pick up a victory at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colorado, in order to try and help their cause of avoiding an early elimination.

Conversely, the U.S. is already through to the next round. The Americans have won each of their first two Group A matches to punch an early ticket to the knockout phase, but they still will want to come out on top so as to clinch winning the group and avoid a potential semifinals date with Group B leader Mexico.

The Americans have had more time to rest and recover for this game than they did going from the first to second game of the competition, but that does not mean U.S. head coach Andi Herzog will use all the same players. In fact, there will likely be a change at goalkeeper now that Ethan Horvath has arrived into camp from Molde.

How will the U.S. lineup on Tuesday look vs. Panama? Here are the 11 players that Herzog could trot out:







Some thoughts:

Zack Steffen has done a decent-to-solid job in goal for the U.S. through two games, but Ethan Horvath has not been summoned from his starting spot at Molde to sit on the bench. Horvath, who shone vs. Ajax in the UEFA Europa League last week, should get his first start with Andi Herzog’s preferred team in this one. That will help him get his feet wet in this tournament and develop a better understanding with the same teammates he is likely to play with in the decisive semifinals bout this weekend.

The other major change that we could see is Herzog going with Fatai Alashe in the No. 6 role instead of de facto starter and captain Wil Trapp. Rest would be a good reason for this, but an even better one is that Trapp is currently on a yellow card that he picked up in the group opener vs. Canada. There’s no need to risk losing Trapp to yellow card accumulation, so sitting him here and giving Alashe a run out as the defensive midfielder would make plenty sense.

There might also be one alteration in the back line. Marc Pelosi started at left back vs. Cuba but suffered an injury that forced him to be stretchered off. While there has been no exact word as to the severity of his knock, it seems highly unlikely that he plays vs. Panama. As a result, Dillon Serna slots back into the lineup.

The rest of the back line should remain the same from what we saw in the 6-1 drubbing of Cuba. Matt Miazga and Cameron Carter-Vickers continue to form a solid partnership in the middle, and Boyd Okwuono showed enough in his start vs. the Cubans to warrant another look at right back ahead of Matt Polster.

In the advanced midfield positions, Luis Gil and Emerson Hyndman should again get nods. Gil and Hyndman did will playing off one another in the last match, so do not be surprised if Herzog starts the former in the hole again and the latter on the left side of the midfield.

Polster could be an option on the right flank given his versatility, but Gedion Zelalem might be a better fight here. Zelalem would give the U.S. three advanced midfielders who are all very good with the ball at their feet and have good vision, and Herzog may be keen on seeing how that works out before the semifinals clash.

Jordan Morris again figures to spearhead the American attack. Some might argue that he could use a rest here, but the U.S. will likely need his combination of speed and power to test Panama’s defense from the onset. His partner could very well change, however.

Jerome Kiesewetter has been one of Herzog’s best players in this tournament, but the U.S. head coach may want to give someone like Maki Tall a good cameo to better see what he can bring to the table. This would allow Herzog to gauge which weapons he can really rely on off the bench in the semifinals, and give the hard-working Kiesewetter some deserved time off to recover.


What do you think of this projected USMNT lineup? Would you prefer to see someone include that isn’t listed here? Should Herzog play Horvath in goal or stick with Steffen? Do you see the Americans defeating Panama?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Players in these games work a lot harder that nearly all players in youth games and are punished more routinely for inattention that comes with tiredness.

    It is important for the coaches to have a good handle on which players need a rest and to see that they get it, else they are asking for mental mistakes and a loss of quickness from the tired players.

    Not sure which players might be a bit tired (I am pretty sure none of them will admit it), but worry most about the midfielders who have to cover a lot of ground as well as guys who are big for their age and probably do not have the endurance of smaller players.

  2. The back line should be whomever will start Saturday with Horvath, you can sub a couple out after half of need be, but they need some time together. Up front give the guys who haven’t played much more time no need for Morris to start.

  3. Given the condensed schedule, it would make more sense to give some of the fringe players a run out and give a few of the guys you expect to play on Saturday the evening off. I know these guys are young but 5 games in 13 days is the kind of nonsense you see in high school soccer.

    • I don’t get professionals these days. Travel league had back-to-back games every Sunday, and you could easily play 5 games in a 2-day tournament during certain windows. And this was when soccer was more of an extracurricular activity, versus a paid job.

      • Listen, I have paid in tournaments when I was younger where you could play 5 or 6 games in a week or less. You can definitely do it, but you will be gassed. You do loose a little of your top end in terms of speed or recovery, and it gives a distinct advantage to deeper teams.

        I personally hated them because our teams suffered more injuries or breakdowns because we could not have proper time to recover. Injuries are a concern with short turnaround.

        Just because something used to happen when you were younger or during a “Sunday League” does not mean pros should do the same.

      • You can’t compare international football to youth tournaments. It’s not the same thing. Plus, as noted, in US youth soccer you can freely sub players in and out. They’ve already clinched the group so this is a chance to get the first-choice players a little break before the game Saturday which is the only one that matters.

      • Well I guess if they lose Saturday the third place game also matters but hopefully it doesn’t come to that.

    • agreed. share the minutes. 1-20 its a good roster and no need to burn out top guys; (Trapp, Kiesewetter, Polster, CCV, Miazga, Steffan) that already have played 180 min last week and will play 180 min this weekend, this is defiantly the easiest game to rest players since QF spot is already (more or less) booked.



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