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Who should the USMNT start vs. Paraguay?

Photo by Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports
Photo by Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports

The U.S. Men’s National Team controls its own destiny on Saturday night, but a berth in the knockout rounds will require a big time performance against a South American foe.

Following Tuesday night’s win over Costa Rica, the USMNT can book a spot in the Copa America knockout stages on Saturday with a win or tie against Paraguay. A loss, however, would send Los Guaraníes through to the knockout stages while prematurely ending the USMNT’s hopes of making a run.

Through two Copa America games, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has stuck with the familiar. The USMNT boss has selected the same lineup in back-to-back matches, but could be tempted to make changes for the team’s third game in eight days.

With a berth in the knockout rounds on the line, the U.S. cannot afford any mistakes. Yet another do-or-die situation awaits in what will be a defining moment of the USMNT’s 2016 campaign.

Here’s a look at a lineup that the USMNT could utilize on Saturday night:

SBI Projetected USMNT XI vs. Paraguay

Some thoughts:

There’s an old saying: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Jurgen Klinsmann should, and probably will, heed that advice on Saturday night.

After cruising past Costa Rica, Klinsmann will likely stick with something that very much resembles Tuesday’s lineup for Saturday’s match against Paraguay. The current XI has been earmarked as the USMNT’s best, and enters on a major high after destroying a CONCACAF rival.

The question becomes how to line them up. On Tuesday night, Klinsmann noticed early that his side was having issues in his chosen 4-3-3 formation. The decision was made to swap to a 4-4-2, tucking Bobby Wood inside with Clint Dempsey while pushing Alejandro Bedoya and Gyasi Zardes out wide.

The USMNT has similar flexibility against Paraguay, but may opt for the two-striker set for tactical reasons. Leading the Paraguay backline is 36-year-old veteran Paulo Da Silva, a player that has developed a keen sense for the game throughout his career. However, as expected for a player so near the end of his playing career, Da Silva is far from fleet of foot, and could be ripe for exposing should the USMNT target him. The idea would be to get any of the USMNT’s attackers one-on-one with the aging defender to exploit superior athleticism while breaking down the heart of the Paraguay defense.

One way of doing that is getting Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin forward, something that was accomplished much more efficiently in the 4-4-2. The formation also tucks Bobby Wood inside, allowing him to cause havoc in the box as Clint Dempsey drops deep to kickstart the attack. Against a Paraguay team likely to be aggressive on the counter, Johnson and Yedlin will have to pick their spots wisely, but should be given the green light to attack as the U.S. needs to snag at least one point.

The biggest point of concern comes with fatigue. Starting the same lineup for the third time in a little over a week is a risk, but it is one that Klinsmann insists his side is up for. Luckily for the USMNT, the team’s two oldest players, Dempsey and Jermaine Jones, are also likely the team’s most competitive. Keeping Dempsey and Jones off the field will be nearly impossible for Klinsmann given their recent performance and pure competitive drive.

If Klinsmann does opt to make some swaps, the most likely candidate to join the lineup are, once again, Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic. Nagbe, in particular, provides Klinsmann with options. If the U.S. is to go with a 4-3-3, Nagbe can replace any of Wood, Jones, Alejandro Bedoya or Gyasi Zardes as a middle or wide option. If it’s a 4-4-2, Nagbe can once again be played anywhere along the middle four. The Portland Timbers midfielder offers versatility and a technical skill arguably unmatched by any other USMNT option, but the idea of bringing him in as a spark in the second half will likely be an enticing one for Klinsmann.

Pulisic could be given a chance to shine in front of his home fans. From Hershey, Pennsylvania, Pulisic’s introduction would be raucous one should he join the fray in Philadelphia. However, despite his maturity, giving a 17-year-old his first international start in a do-or-die game would be a bold move, even for Klinsmann.

Depending on how things move, Klinsmann will have choices as the game enters its final moments. Jones and Dempsey are likely pegged for less than 90 minutes, and Klinsmann has a variety of ways to replace them depending on the situation. Graham Zusi is very in form and can slot in on the wing or the midfield, while Kyle Beckerman provides a lock-down option should the U.S. be tied or nursing a narrow lead.

All things considered, it’s do or die time for the USMNT, and it’s very likely the U.S. will ride with what got them to this point. Throughout the tournament, Klinsmann has insisted that this 11 is his best 11, and it is now up to them to fully prove it by pushing through to the knockout stages.


  1. –WOOD————————————-DEMPSEY————————————-ZARDES—




    I switched the center backs, just because.

  2. DO NOT CHANGE THE LINE-UP!!!! What has proven to work doesn’t need to be changed!!!!





    As much as I would want Nagbe to play in the midfield or Zusi to start up top, this Formation:

    beat Ecuador (same formation not the same line-up)

    blewout out Boliva (that we have never done before)

    Stood toe to toe with Columbia

    blewout Costa Rica (that was have never done before)

    …if its not broken DON’T FIX IT!!!

    • Don’t you see that you just made a strong case for changing the lineup.

      The “A” lineup used in the first half of the Ecuador and Bolivia games was outplayed by the sub lineup.

      We didn’t create very many good attacking chances against Colombia.

      But most importantly, most of these players have logged significant minutes in a very short period of time. Depth is important and the 3rd match is usually when it pays the highest dividend.

      Zardes in particular looked pretty gassed, so I expect him to be rotated out and held as a substitute forward for either Wood or Dempsey. Zusi would be the safe choice, but we all know Pulisic should be next in line (and should be/have been in the best 11 to start with).

      Someone in the midfield definitely needs a rest. Bedoya is the easy pick as he is sitting on a yellow, but of the three it’s actually been Bradley who has been the worst (and he’s also played the most though fitness has never been an issue for him). His spot is the deep lying spot so that means Beckerman is probably the next man up. I think Kitchen is up to the task, but that’s a big risk. If Bedoya sits, Nagbe is the guy.

      This also seems like it’s primed for that patented Klinsmann “wtf” moment, which I suspect will be the mighty Orozco at RB with Yedlin moving back to his “late game wing super sub” role.

  3. We should start…..


    (Drops Mic, walks out)
    (Klinsmann haters go nuts in 1..2….3.)

  4. 4-1-3-2, with Bradley deep and Wood more central rather than on the wing.

    I guess I see JK’s point about Zardes’s energy, but I’d line up the midfield three as Bedoya, Jones, and either Zusi or Pulisic.

  5. If we insist on a 4-4-2 (I like the 4-3-3 better right now) then we cannot have Bradley and Jones together in the center of the midfield. It does not work, it has not worked, and I do not see them figuring it out in a pressure game.

    Here is the old problem: Jones is not a defensive midfielder, he is a box to box player as he showed last game, and Bradley wants to be the deep laying #6, but when they play together they are told to share the responsibilities and neither fulfills their proper role. Here is the new problem: Jones is playing better and with more passion, so you would think to choose him and play Beckerman behind him, but Bradley is a starter no matter what (not my rule but it is obvious to see, he is the captain) and if they both play they need the third midfielder to allow the proper balance.

    So, it should be a 4-3-3 with Nagbe in the midfield and Bedoya moved up to Zardes’ spot. I would also move Wood to the center and Pulisic or Zusi on the other side, allowing Demps to be a super sub if we need him and give him rest if we do not. I am sure the SBI version will be what walks out on the field, but it gives us almost no creativity not named Dempsey, and I think we will need some in this game.

      • Because of the game that we just saw. Ugly. No possession. Gritty for sure, but I expect better.

    • Don Lamb, Bryan; this whole 442 vs 433 thing doesn’t really matter in my opinion if Klinsmann is going to use the exact same players with both formations. Throughout the game players move around and the USMNT is constantly playing both a 433 and 442. The difference between the two formations is just one or two players moving a few yards on the field. The philosophy will remain 433 with Bradley being the DM because you don’t want Jones and Bradley to have to think and decide who sits and who attacks in the two-man double-pivot midfield.

      • It does matter. Angles are completely different in a 4-3-3. It’s a more complex system, but it’s something that we can and should figure out.

  6. I largely agree that “it ain’t broke”, but it could use a tune-up.

    Shifting to the 4-4-2 appeared to optimize Wood and Dempsey, but Zardes was still relatively ineffective. Nagbe has better instincts and skills, and I see no downside to starting him instead of Zardes. He is also one of the most-fouled players MLS. Who doesn’t need more set pieces?

    Let Zardes come on and motor around a tired Paraguay for the last 20-30 minutes, when his weaknesses won’t be such liabilities.

  7. Really blows my mind how much time zardes gets with this team, his technically ability is atrocious, finishing is extremely inconsistent, he does work back defensively but has 1 or 2 terrible lapses defensively per game. I’d start zusi, pulisic or nagbe for him, and in the grand scheme I wanna see finlay and lleteget get some play before we give zardes a look again, he needs to figure out his position either with the galaxy or somewhere else, and then we can see where he fits at that time.

    • Can you name a player for the US that doesn’t have a 1 or 2 defensive lapses per game. Or doesn’t have a bad first touch from time to time. He’s not fabulous, but how many players do we have that are.

      • Given the amount he asked to defend, 2 or 3 lapses per game is a lot, brooks, cameron and yedlin may do that, but are asked to defend so much more

    • Did you happen to see the Zardes poor touches highlight video going around yesterday? It had like 40,000 views before US soccer yanked it down.

    • Gyasi Zardes has great burst.. Not just “speed”

      This allows him to get past defenders into good attacking positions in the run of play

      Zardes has fantastic situational awareness that allows him to make right pass, or take a solid shot frame-he’s efficient, you’ll never see an errant hoof at goal to “test” the keeper..

      Zardes understands how to funnel himself into the right lane or channel to remain essentially unmarked in the final third-very rare to see him have to push off a defender or juke a guy..

      He is deadly accurate with either pass or shot-his ability to decide either in a short amount of time is fantastic..

      He is just physical enough on defense to be a solid aerial defender..

      Zardes understands what the coaches want him to do an can be considered a vital piece of the program..

      It seems that the arguments against this guy surround the idea of “touch” being played out of position and the ubiquitous: ” He should have scored three instead of two..

      Is he a victim of the anonymous/follower/meme culture that seems to dominate pro soccer in this country?

      Or is there something else going on here..


      • People who see him play every week for the Galaxy have a different opinion than those who don’t. And, yes, I know international play is tougher, but Zardes in MLS is better than a number of other US national team players who play in MLS. I have noticed how once a player gets tagged with a certain label, then people are always looking for validation of that label and pretty much ignore everything else. After the game vs. Colombia a poster repeated the same old “horrible first touch” meme, but I had watched him closely because of that and saw only one time when his first touch let him down. Another time, in the CR game I think it was, the announcer said he had a bad first touch when it wasn’t that at all. He passed to Wood about five yards to his right at the top of the box, but Wood had gone forward hoping for a through ball. It was a simple miscommunication. Meanwhile, Dempsey, whom I greatly admire, had a terrible first touch when he was in a good position at the top of the box, but was bailed out by the Jones goal. But it wasn’t even mentioned because of the goal.

      • His Galaxy performances don’t translate to international play. His main issue last game wasn’t his poor touch, but that he air mailed a clear opportunity on goal. Which should be familiar to everyone since he also wasted chances in the away wc qualifier vs T and T. He’s just not good enough.

        And for what it’s worth people couldn’t wait to kill Dempsey for the accidental assist to Jones. People are constantly trying to bury him and move on actually but Dempsey finds ways to prove he still belongs on the field. I don’t really see that from Zardes

      • I’ve watched a lot of Zardes, with LA and the national team. He;s very good if he knows whats he’s going to do before he gets the ball. If he has to receive the ball, then think what to do it all falls apart for him. In part Klinsmann’s make it up as you go along approach hurts Zardes I think.

        He’s a player that very American in the sense he needs to no who is where and what I’m doing next. He needs the instruction. Just look at his assist against Iceland. When he can just hit a one touch pass or finish low and hard he is pretty good. You ask him to improvise it all falls apart.

      • Gary Page: “I have noticed how once a player gets tagged with a certain label, then people are always looking for validation of that label and pretty much ignore everything else.”

        Great point that I definitely agree with. To be clear I do think Zardes often has a bad first touch, but that’s something that’s consistent within the US soccer player pool, with some players being slightly better or worst at it then others. Lack of technical ability and skill compared to other top countries’ player pools is the reason we are who we are. If Zardes would dramatically improve his first touch he’d still be unlikely to shed that label.

  8. Still wondering why the organizers broke with the rule of playing final group stage matches simultaneously (to avoid advance knowledge of possible outcomes and getting into problems that can cause). Anybody know?

  9. ——————-wood——————–

      • I’d trust Matt Besler over Edgar Castillo playing the left full back position should Fabian Johnson moves up to midfield or left wing. Besler showed he can play well and have good chemistry with the backline as a left back during the Bolivia friendly.

      • Simon, yea Besler showed that for 1 half (not even a full game) in a friendly game that was just a tune-up game, where Bolivia played horribly and never threatened the US defense. And this is enough for you to say you would start Besler over Castillo at left-back in a do or die game? C’mon man.

        It’s a moot point anyway because FJ will be the left-back again.

  10. I don’t know how long Dempsey can go playing in this CAM role, but if we can get an early goal we can rotate Clint back up top and Zardes to a wing.


    I think we’ll still see the 4-3-3 to start and then a shift into this. I could see Nagbe or Zusi start for Ale since he is on a yellow card. If we are ahead or tied I think the subs will be similar to CR, if we need a goal then Pulisic and Nagbe are on. I know that won’t make people happy.

    • While I’m not opposed to the lineup, I’d prefer to keep a winger on the left. Maybe, put Zardes on the left, Dempsey up top with Wood, and then Jones as the makeshift CAM. Similar to SBI lineup, but less of a flat 4-4-2, and more of a diamond like you showed.

      However, I think this is the game we see Nagbe or Beckerman start. We need the win, but we have Bedoya on a yellow card and our guys may be a bit tired from two consecutive starts. So, I see one of the two below as a likely lineup:




      I say don’t mess too much with what has, in the general sense, already worked. Granted, I am not opposed to a switch here and there, but this is a big game, regardless of opponent. Win and in.

  11. Zusi for Zardes? Never thought I’d pick Zusi over anyone but he did more than Zardes does on the wing. Sadly i don’t think Zardes has a place starting anymore. Better forwards than him and better wings than him. Super sub could get him a ton of goals though with his work ethic and physical abilities can hurt a tired defense in the late stages of the game

    • Zardes is decent depth option at the center forward position. He had a his break out season for LA in the position but moving him around to the wing for club and country has done him no favors since.

    • I cannot believe JK won’t tinker with the lineup. Especially when the pundits and fans think he should not.

      Whatever, you can almost count on JK to do something else.

      Personally I would replace Zardes with either Nagbe or Zusi but other than that, would make no changes. Of course, JK seldom sees it my way so …

    • Zardes plays out of position more than any other US starter. He is not prolific, in fact he is more profligate at his wide spot, BUT, he is a workhorse for Klinsmann and the US team and tracks back more than any other offensive player in every game he plays. That is why Klinsmann uses him all the time. Not only does he track back for defense, he does it very, very fast. He is a bit like a safety net, you could probably play as well, or even better without him, but if you don’t, then he there to catch you when you fall.

      That being said, three hard running games in eight days is tough even on a superb conditioned Zardes, and if US beat Paraguay, the US will need him him even more against Brazil to keep upwith it’s pacey offensive threat.

      So I expect Klinsmann will give him limited minutes, or an entire rest this game.


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