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

U-23 USMNT lineup vs. Canada 11

photo by Peter G. Aiken/USA Today Sports


The U.S. Under-23 Men’s National Team got off on the right foot, but there is no time to be complacent.

The U.S. started CONCACAF Olympic qualifying on Thursday by posting a 3-1 win over Canada, but now has to quickly shift gears to prepare for a second Group A game. The Americans are set to meet underdog Cuba on Saturday (5 pm ET, Telemundo) at Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas, and another victory would mean early passage to the knockout phase of the competition.

Facing such a quick turnaround will likely lead to lineup changes for both sides – Cuba also played on Thursday – but U.S. head coach Andi Herzog will still have several talented youngsters to choose from. The question that remains is just how many holdovers, if any, he will have from Thursday in his weekend lineup.

While Herzog could be tempted to go with almost all reserves on Saturday, seeing how Cuba tied Panama, 1-1, in the other Group A game may force him to reconsider. Fielding players with tired legs is never ideal, but securing three more points would guarantee that there is no group-stage exit for the Americans.

Who will Herzog go with vs. Cuba? Here is the lineup that we could see him deploy:







Some thoughts:

Heavy changes should be expected for this one given the lone day for recovery and, frankly, the opposition. Yes, overlooking an opposing team may not be recommended, but the U.S. should be deep enough to make changes and still win comfortably.

Most of head coach Andi Herzog’s alterations will probably come to the front five, and it is entirely possible that he replaces all of Thursday’s starting attackers. Forwards Jordan Morris and Jerome Kiesewetter both went the distance in the victory over Canada, so Herzog may want to sit them and fill the front line with Alonso Hernandez and the highly-regarded Maki Tall.

The midfield trio behind the forwards might also be entirely different. Luis Gil seems to be a safe bet to get the nod in the hole given the short turnaround and especially since he scored in a brief stint vs. Canada. Lining up to his right and left, respectively, could very well be Gboly Ariyibi and Marc Pelosi, as that would allow Thursday starters Fatai Alashe and Emerson Hyndman to catch their breaths.

In the defensive midfield spot, Wil Trapp may again be used despite the lack of rest. His importance to the group is evident not only because of his skill set, but also his leadership qualities. That combination of traits is why he was named captain for Thursday’s match, and Herzog might need Trapp to be the glue that holds it all together for a new-look U.S. lineup.

The back line should see some alterations as well. Boyd Okwuono could slot in for Matt Polster at right back and Will Packwood is capable to replace Cameron Carter-Vickers, but there are no other natural centerback and left back options on the squad that did not play against the Canadians. As a result, central defender Matt Miazga and fullback Dillon Serna may be tasked with going again from the opening whistle while providing some semblance of cohesion to the back four.

In goal, Zack Steffen very easily could start again. That said, Herzog has publicly talked up both Steffen and Charlie Horton. There might not be a better opportunity to give Horton a chance to showcase what he is about, so Herzog may opt to go with the back-up here.


What do you think of this projected lineup for the U.S. U-23s? How many changes should Herzog make, in your opinion? Expect any squad of Americans to beat Cuba on Saturday?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. You stick to the rotation because Cuba is short-handed from defections and probably going to tire out as the game progresses. You can still sub in key players if the game starts to go wrong, and it situates you well to play the last game hard if necessary (being the only team that won the first game we have the luxury of the long play). If we win, everyone is pretty rested, you’ve clinched the semis, and you get to them pretty rested 4 days after the group games. One win and we’re in, if that game goes wrong the team is rested enough to play hard for the playoff spot.

    I was not a big fan of Steffen’s play. He flailed at a long ball that ended up bouncing over him, and the goal was soft. Leeds is a decent club — re Horton — but messing around with keepers is risky. But I’d trust my rotation since we have the best record in the group.

    • I’m not sure how you can blame that goal on Steffen. Unmarked man and he still has to hold his position in case it goes on goal untouched. Steffen is the first keeper I have seen at the youth levels who looks like the heir apparent to the Friedel/Keller/Howard run of quality (only with decent feet too). Not that I dislike Hamid. And in the interest of full disclosure I haven’t seen Horvath who is tearing it up at Molde.

      That being said, he is young and still has the occasional judgment break down when he comes out for long balls that are more than 10 yards from the goal box. Happened in the recent U-20’s too. Anyway, don’t bail on Steffen is what I am saying 🙂

    • Cassar obviously doesn’t rate him as highly as others might. He got a stretch of matches at the 10 spot when MOrrales was hurt but RSL didn’t play very well and that was mostly it. I have to imagine he will be leaving that club soon.

  2. This is what makes no sense about this setup.
    Almost no recovery time between games and a roster of 20 instead of 23-One or the other maybe, but both….


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