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Who should the USMNT start vs. Honduras?

Friday’s World Cup qualifier is all but a must-win for the U.S. Men’s National Team. After sputtering through the opening two matches of the Hexagonal round, the U.S. faces a colossal challenge on Friday as the team looks to right the ship against Honduras.

In any scenario, a World Cup qualifier in CONCACAF is tough, but making Friday all the more difficult are a slew of notable absences.

The Jermaine Jones suspension? The U.S. knew that was coming, but it was impossible to predict the wave of injuries that would soon hit the squad. Bobby Wood, Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin all remained with their clubs due to injuries, opening up four starting spots from what is likely the ideal XI.

Knowing that, head coach Bruce Arena will need to make several changes on Friday in a match that will require the U.S. to step up and seize all three points.

Here’s a look at one possible USMNT lineup:

Some thoughts:

The lineup above is certainly not the one Bruce Arena had in his head several weeks back. As the match moved closer and closer, it became apparent that Arena would need to make several changes to his ideal XI.

With Yedlin and Johnson out, Arena was robbed of two premier fullback options, even if Johnson was expected to play in the midfield at some point. Those losses require the team to shift and, with the lack of true right backs on the roster, Geoff Cameron becomes a likely candidate to move outside. The U.S. could deploy Graham Zusi or Michael Orozco in the position to keep Cameron central, but Arena should put more trust in his centerback depth than those at the fullback position.

With Cameron outside, John Brooks needs a partner, and Omar Gonzalez looks to be a likely selection. They’re not the most mobile group, but Gonzalez is level-headed in these types of games, giving the U.S. backline another player with World Cup experience. Left back, meanwhile, remains a bit of a mess, as Arena could turn to Jorge Villafana, DaMarcus Beasley or even Matt Besler or Tim Ream in the position. Given his efforts in January, Villafana deserved the nod, even if his lack of international experience is a hindrance.

Jones’ absence opens a gap in the middle, and several players can jump in to fill the void. Given his familiarity with Arena, and his play in January camp, Sebastian Lletget would be a solid fit, providing creativity on the ball alongside Michael Bradley. Alejandro Bedoya is likely the safe choice, but Lletget is the more dynamic one.

Out wide, Christian Pulisic is penciled in, as he likely will be for the next decade, while Darlington Nagbe should start on the other side due to his strong start with the Portland Timbers. Centrally, the U.S. is in need of reshuffling, though.

All things considered, Arena likely envisioned a Bobby Wood-Jozy Altidore partnership, but the former’s injury wipes that vision away for the time being. Ideally, Clint Dempsey would be saved as a bench option, but the U.S. doesn’t have the wiggle room. Dempsey and Altidore have known chemistry and the duo remain two of the top scorers in USMNT history. In a match as important as Friday’s, giving Dempsey 50-60 minutes to get a goal is a good start and could go a long way towards righting the ship in Hex play.


  1. Omar cant start with Brooks. It doesnt work. If Brooks was out and any other CB was playing id say Omar would be an okay option to start, but as long as Brooks is healthy he will be starting, and as long as Brooks is starting Omar shouldnt be.

  2. Question for everyone about Jermaine Jones’ yellow card accumulation suspension: I get that the 2nd YC was from the match vs. Costa Rica in November, but when was the previous YC … it wasn’t for his YC in the match vs. T&T all the way back in November 2015 was it?

  3. Altidore/Dempsey
    Brooks/Cameron/Zimmerman or Besler

    Use centerback depth and play 3 in the back, get Acosta onto the field. Lets go!!!

  4. One of the reasons Arena was brought in to replace Klinsman was to introduce some stability, so that each player’s role wouldn’t change from match to match. I think Arena might try to stick as closely to his original preferred system and lineup as possible. From the players he originally selected (and those he excluded!) I think he planned a 4-4-2 and (except for left back) I think his probable first choices were: LB?/Brooks/Cameron/Yedlin across the back, Jones/Bradley at CM, Johnson/Pulisic on the wings, Wood/Altidore up front (with Dempsey off the bench for now). If I’m right, we’re looking to replace only Yedlin, Jones, Johnson and Wood, “like for like” as much as possible.

    With Chandler and Lichaj unavailable, we’d be down to Orosco for Yedlin (there’s no “like for like” available here); Lletget for Jones; Bedoya for Johnson (two-way player, so not Nagbe). As for replacing Wood, I think it depends on Morris’s fitness. If he’s near 100%, he starts. If not, maybe Dempsey has to start and plays only a half, but I really don’t think Arena wants to do that. (Or maybe Dempsey doesn’t start and Arena’s forced to play a 4-2-3-1 with Pulisic or Klejstan at attacking mid, but I’m not sure if he wants to do that either.)

    If Orosco (or Zusi) is just too far down the depth chart, maybe Arena violates my principle and uses Cameron at RB with Gonzalez at CB.

    I really have no idea who Arena’s first choice LB is, but I wouldn’t be astounded if it turned out to be Beasley at this point.

    I’ll be happy to be wrong about all of the above as long as whatever Arena decides to do works, and we get 4-6 points in these next two matches.

  5. I still just have this strange feeling we might see a 3 man backline. If we had FJ and Yedlin I wouldn’t think I was crazy.

    Some sane thoughts Nagbe and Villafana played together so perhaps we will see both on the left. I would prefer Accosta, but Bruce has trust in Lletget and Bedoya is a safer pick. Bedoya maybe a player that could benefit of Arenas more precise plan.

    • if we had yedlin and fabian now, i’d love to see it. it would probably be the best lineup for gonzalez—whose misreads could be covered by cameron and brooks flanking him, much the way cahill and azpilicueta cover for david luiz at chelsea—although i’d hope for an eventual back three of brooks, cameron, and carter-vickers.

      that’s why the 3-cb back line against mexico was so frustrating: it was a textbook case of the right idea at the wrong time. no cameron, no yedlin, and rolling it out in one of the most difficult games in qualifying.

    • I’ve said for years our player pool is made for a 3-5-2. A glut of CB options, lack of true wing options, and Jozy and Wood’s form up to makes it a near perfect fit.

      When fit:

      You could bring Dempsey, Morris, Nagbe, Lletget, Acosta, Chandler, Birnbaum, etc. as sub options

      For today’s match:


      However that being said, I can’t see Bruce unveiling this experiment in a must win game when he’s had just a few days practice.

  6. Big news Boxi Yomba signed with Reno1868 of the USL. I’ve been searching for this kid ever since he left Atletico Madrid over a year ago, he has been found.

  7. ———–Altidore—————Dempsey——–







    I think this line-up has the most upside in terms of experience and positional familiarity.

    Nagbe can run forward and be creative while also changing the shape to a 3 man front with a dangerous Altidore-Dempsey pair that has great poacher/holdup work.

    Pulisic can play conservative and work with Sacha.

    John Brooks looks great carrying the attack forward I want to see him with some freedom to roam and Geoff Cameron keeping the back in order. I suppose the inverse could be equally as effective as Cameron has gotten a lot of time at DM.

    This lineup has two FB that also have CB experience.

    Maybe they could also shift into a three man back on either side? Who knows I’m no manager

    • ——Nagbe——–Altidore———Dempsey—



      Ream———— Brooks—–——Orozco


      How’s that for a changeup?

    • Not sure about the back line, but then I’m not sure about any back line at this point. I like your front six and expect that is who and how Arena will have them line up. The exception is that I hope and expect that Pulisic will not be conservative, but will be put in an attacking role on the wing. He is maybe our most dynamic player and it would be a waste to not use him aggressively.

      • I just think a player like Nagbe will be more confident going forward.

        Pulisic plays really solid defensive ball for a young attacker. I want to see him crash in, but on the right he would be cutting onto his weak foot.

        I’m not ready to trust Bradley again, either. Wanted him to have help

  8. for honduras, i would start brooks-cameron in the middle, and orozco at right back with instructions to stay defensive. if i remember correctly, honduras likes to attack down the wings. left back is a toss up, no idea.

    and i don’t think we’ll see lletget get the start; if we do see a new(ish) guy at that spot, i’m leaning toward acosta.

    yeah, dempsey-jozy up top; although i’d probably switch their usual roles, with jozy dropping back more and dempsey as the target forward, which should allow him to play more minutes.

  9. Lletget is a possibility, maybe, but much more likely we’ll see the more appropriate and vastly more experiemced, and by all indications the overall more talented Bedoya. As others have noted, villafana will not start either. Beasley.

  10. ———–Altidore—————Dempsey——–






    LETS GO!!!!!!!

    • arena dropping the captain for his first official match, in what’s basically a must-win? it’s a bold move bizzy, let’s see if it pays off for him.

    • I think the chances of Arena not starting MB are between very slim and none. It may be a good idea, but I just don’t see Arena taking the chance.

      • That’s only a valid question if they played the same position. It’s almost as bad as do you want to see Howard or Wondo.

      • Wow Brian I must be still asleep, I see why you compared Orozco and Bradley. It doesn’t matter as long as MB is healthy and Captain he’s going to start.

  11. Jozy and pulisic up top. Nagbe and Zusi on wings llegetand Bradley in middle cam and brooks in middle in def and ream and. Orozco on wings

  12. Just not sure why everyone is so high on lletget? Acosta should be starting, even after missing so much of January camp he gets called in so I would think Arena rates him highly and he is in good form.

  13. No way that Villafana starts in a game of this magnitude. I think that Lletget starting is also highly unlikely. Definitely Beasley, then Kljestan vs Bedoya in thr middle.

    • I agree 100 percent. Not convinced Arena would start Villafana, who is a bench player for his club, in this game. Lletget would also shock me. He will play a more experience player, Bedoya or Sacha.

  14. While I certainly don’t expect it this match, I do think that Bruce may give some time to Acosta during the next several months. I can’t imagine that a player in that kind of form won’t find his way into some playing time.

  15. I hope you are wrong about Omar. I personally have no, zero, nado, nil, zilch confidence in him. Time and again, he has proven to be a weak link in international games. I would rather keep the potential problems on the outside. Yes you can’t bet burnt by a good wing taking in to the end line and cutting it back, but I prefer Orozco at RB and Cameron in the middle to any combination of Omar playing. Everybody talks about Chandler’s club form not translating to international play, the same is true for Gonzalez. It’s a shame. He appears to be a fun loving, genuinely good guy.

    • Gonzalez offers a lot in terms of physicality on set-pieces and is generally a solid defender, but at the international level he’s good for giving up a goal almost every international match in recent memory it seems. He’s also incredibly susceptible to speedy forwards.

      Maybe he’s turned a corner? I’ll believe it when I see him go a stretch of matches without being the weakest link on the back line for key sequences in every match.

      • The good and bad about Gonzalez having moved to Mexico is that reports say it has made him better, but since I don’t watch Liga MX I never see him play now so have no idea if it’s true. I’m guessing the majority of SBI readers don’t watch many Pachuca games. I have always been much higher on Gonzalez than most though so I have no issue with him starting. In Gonzalez I trust!

      • Gonzalez has had some good matches for us but they tend to be in the games where we cede the majority of possession and sit deep. This allows him to keep the game in front of him and eat up crosses when they come in. His worst games I can remember were vs weaker opponents where his lack of mobility/positioning in transition has hurt us dearly.

    • It’s not just that Gonzales is good for a gaffe or two a game but his distribution out of the back is poor, at least when I’ve see him play and that means giving up possession quickly and not letting your defense breathe. I don’t particularly know if Honduras (or Panama) are a big team but if they’re small and fast, then I think Omar is a liability at the international level. Ironically, as another poster pointed out, he may have improved playing in the more technical Mexican league but, I have not watched those games either, so I don’t know.

      • Exactly right about Gonzalez’s poor distribution. As far as gaffes go, did Ryan actually write “Gonzalez is level-headed in these types of games?” Trolling your readership is not very nice.

        Unfortunately we don’t have to wonder whether Gonzalez has improved by playing in Liga Mx. We saw him loafing around the field just 4 months ago in Costa Rica.

  16. Although individually Gonzalez is a better centerback than Zusi/Orozco are full backs, I think Cameron/Brooks chemistry is worth keeping them together. Just my opinion.

    Is there a chance Bedoya and Lletget flank bradley in a 433, especially when Dempsey is not on the field? Difficulty is ensuring Jozy doesn’t get isolated but could give us some nice fluidity in midfield.


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