photo by Peter G. Aiken/USA Today Sports
By FRANCO PANIZO
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:
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.