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Who should the USMNT start vs. Panama?

After months of reliving and rehashing the events of November’s World Cup qualifiers, the U.S. Men’s National Team unleashed the ultimate bounce-back performance. Now, just days later, they’re tasked with doing it again and earning another win in Hexagonal play.

The USMNT destroyed Honduras, 6-0, on Friday night in the first true game of Bruce Arena’s tenure, all but erasing any doubt still lingering from November’s disaster. The job is far from done, though, with so many Hex games remaining, and attention now turns towards Tuesday’s difficult visit to Panama.

Road games in CONCACAF are always full of surprises and one would expect Tuesday’s match to look significantly different than Friday’s beat down. There are changes to be made as the USMNT roster shifts but Arena and co. will hope to provide more of the same as the group pushed back up the qualifying table.

Here’s a look at one possible lineup for Tuesday night:

Some thoughts:

Generally, logic says that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, and that logic can be applied to a majority of the USMNT lineup. There are changes to be made, though, due to necessity.

With John Brooks and Sebastian Lletget’s departure from the squad, the U.S. will have at least two new starters on Tuesday. Fortunately for Bruce Arena, there’s a fairly simple answer to who replaces the latter, while the former’s sinus infection will force some interesting shuffling along the backline.

Starting with the defense, the U.S. will need to look towards a new centerback pairing as Brooks returns to Germany. There are options, including Omar Gonzalez, Geoff Cameron, Matt Besler, Tim Ream and Walker Zimmerman, and each has their merits and their downsides.

A reunion of Gonzalez and Besler makes plenty of sense given their shared history. The two have partnered together for plenty of World Cup qualifiers before and should offer plenty of stability at the back. It’s a partnership that makes sense given the current state of the backline. It allows Cameron to remain on the right ahead of a Graham Zusi, while giving the U.S. a reliable central partnership that enters with built-in chemistry.

Ream remains a wild card in that race for a starting spot. When Brooks was forced out of Friday’s match, it was Ream Arena turned to as a late replacement. It may be a hint or it may just have been a momentary decision, but it did show Arena’s faith in the Fulham star.

In the central midfield, Arena has options as well, but one stands out. Suspended for the first game, Jermaine Jones is now the obvious starter in the midfield as he regains eligibility. If Jones wasn’t going to play a role, Arena wouldn’t have called him in, making him the likely starter on Tuesday. Alejandro Bedoya is also an option after replacing Lletget on Friday, but the spot is almost certainly reserved for Jones.

Aside from that, it would make sense to keep things as they were. On the above graphic, Christian Pulisic starts on the right side, although he’ll almost certainly drift inside plenty after tormenting Honduras on Friday. Darlington Nagbe starts on the left following a quietly impressive performance, while Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore lead the line. Dempsey’s hat-trick effort was quite the relief, showing that he still has plenty of gas in the tank even as he continues his push to full fitness.

In the aftermath of a 6-0 demolition, sweeping changes aren’t needed as the U.S. looks to push up the table with another three-point effort.


  1. 4-2-3-1 Jozy alone up top, with Nagbe, Pulisic, Bedoya behind him. JJ and MB in front of a leaky back 4 of Beasley, Ream, Cameron, and Zusi. Bedoya will spend a lot of time helping Zusi the first 65 minutes. Then they go for the win.

    • I sort of get that he’s on the older side and is coming back from a layoff, but you’re not going to start a guy who got 3 in the last game? And I don’t know about Beasley, the guy retired from the national team like 3 years ago, he’s only there in case of injury and to be a good locker room/practice guy.

      What I like about your formation is that it keeps Pulisic in the middle, and gets both Bradley and Jones on the field.

  2. Back line options are still a mess. Brooks out with sinus infection?!?……..hunh ? FoxSports say Villafana, Cameron, Gonzalez(ugh), and Zusi Villafana looked good v Honduras and Gonzales has the dreaded ‘potential’ so we shall see. I really cannot see this bunch keeping a clean sht. FS say JJ instead of Bedoya @ DM. Agreed should and will. Duece and Jozy up top hard to argue that with Wood still hurting. Will be interesting who would sub for Clint if he cannot go 90. Score would dictate much of that, of course. Thinking we’ll concede 1 or 2 and score in the 1 – 3 range. I am pumped ! ⚽⚽[?]? USA!!!

  3. food for thought for those of you thinking this is going to be a street fight (not saying this is what area will do, mind you…)


    “Route 1” football: Make Jones a battering ram behind your two forwards, have Nagbe and Pulisic both stretch the flanks and invert in from out wide.

    • Looks good except for, I would put in RunDMB at LB. He has more experience, toughess, speed and grit, and is a decent attacking LB with a good L foot cross, when needed. He is the seasoned veteran. Villafana is still a little wet behind the ears. Beasley starts.

      • If Arena saw it that way, we would have seen Beasley against Honduras. Villafana gets the start again tonight.

  4. I absolutely don’t like the idea of pushing Pulisic out wide. Leave him in the middle, and choose from Bradley, Bedoya, Jones and Nagbe for the other 3 midfield spots.

  5. Arena said today we may see 4-5 replacements, and that he would decide after today’s training session.
    If there was one glaring liability early in the last game, it was the space between MB and Pulisic.. a better opponent would have taken advantage of that.
    I don’t know what some people are thinking, but WC qualifier on the road in Panama vs a team that just lost?
    Give me Jermaine Jones every day and twice on Sunday in that scenario….
    Over Under on the number of times Pulisic gets hammered??
    This is gonna be a streetfight

    • In a physical match I give the odds to the US 8 out of 10 times….unless we get CONCACAF’ed by the Refs. Jozy, Dempsey, Jones, Bradley, Cameron & Gonzalez can bang with the best of them. Nagbe & Pulisic on the other hand are very good at limiting their contact w/ the opposition. Where I get worried is if Panama finds a way to effectively use their speed against our defense. With Brooks likely out, Yedlin and others not with the team….the defense is suspect against balls over the top. I expect Panama to by-pass their midfield often, and try to get their players in behind.

    • Hear hear. In case people have forgotten Panama gave the US all it could handle in the last Gold Cup and they will be out to avenge their loss at home in the last round of WC qualifiers. I won’t be at all surprised if we start out with a 4-5-1 and try to absorb the pressure and keep it scoreless. If you remember the last qualifier there, I think we scored around the 85th minute and then in stoppage time to steal the win. Just looked it up and the tying and winning goals were both in stoppage time. So I think we need to play cautiously and then bring on Deuce in the last 20 minutes or so and go to a more attacking formation then .

    • Yikes. That’s a lot of changes and potential momentum-killer.

      Hopefully not, though. Arena did a master class job of preparing his team, and the players did a master of class job of coming out ready and performing. Hate to see that get stunted by someone off the bench not playing to the level of the previous starters.

      Either way it’s a big match. If the “next guy up” can’t step up he never should have been there. It’s go time.

      • He said there would definitely be two bc of Lleggett and Brooks, then he said it could be as many as 4 or 5 & he’d decide after training… could just be coachspeak

  6. Can someone please provide an update if there are any injured star players for Panama? I heard Blas Perez had one, but not sure if he will be able to play vs. the US.

  7. I still do not understand why we “pencil” in Jones. We lose our offensive flow when his poor first touch and errant passing enter the game. That experience needs to go to Acosta or Bedoya or Arriola. You know, someone who won’t be 50 at the next World Cup.

    • Russia is a long ways out, in soccer time, and there’s a long list of players that fall off or come out of nowhere in 12 months leading up to a World Cup. To say nothing of the fact that Russia still isn’t guaranteed at this point.

      You play your best players, whomever they may be, in these kind of situations. Whether Jones is in Russia or not is irrelevant to the fact that we need 3 points to keep pushing. At this point, very few are penciled in for Russia with a managerial change and form dipping/improving based on individual performances.

    • I think I can explain it for you @Dave. Every coach that has had Jermaine Jones on the team starts him. They all, the professional coaches, see the same thing. They see a guy with an incredible work rate, an abundance of bite on the tackle, and a heart to compete the size of North America. You are right his first touch isn’t great often. But look at the big games over the last 6 years. Who shows up more than anyone else? Who competes? Who doesn’t back down a millimeter? It’s Jones. Arena said it during the January camp. “the guy is an animal” in regards to work rate.

      Many of our fellow posters rip him, because he and MB don’t play well together. Maybe after all the bad performances from MB over the last 2 years, maybe it’s time to say JJ may not be the problem. You are right in that nobody beats Father Time. He is undefeated. I am rooting for Overtime in Jones’ case. Enjoy the game.

      • My problem with Jones is skill. I get that he hustles and puts in a good shift, and he was great in the 2014 WC. But, he wasn’t an unstoppable force. We were outplayed in the midfield in 3 of the 4 games. His hustle was there for the 4-0 drubbing in Costa Rica. I think the team plays better when he’s not in it. Maybe we wouldn’t need him to fly around making tackles if he didn’t turn the ball over so often. Our goal is to go deep in the WC, not beat Honduras. We need to develop the other players in those tough environments, and have Jones sub in if they struggle. Experience does not beat ability.

      • Word. I used to be a Jones hater, but this guy has been darn near lights out since like 2013. He’s found the fountain of youth or something. He does lack a little bit technically, but he’s made some really big plays over the past couple years… Like was previously stated, if he becomes a favorite of every coach he plays for, there’s probably a reason why.

      • My problem with Jones is skill. I get that he hustles and puts in a good shift, and he was great in the 2014 WC. But, he wasn’t an unstoppable force.

        Revisionist history at it’s best. Jones has been the stalwart of our midfield for the past 5 years and Boy Bradley playing the role of blatant liability.

        I agree to not wanting to see both on the pitch at the same time, but it’s not Jones deserving of riding the bench. Absolutely pleased Bradley scored a goal, but he continued his tradition of needless back passes putting defenders at risk (scary scenario with someone like Omar Gonzalez back there) and careless turnovers.

        Jones doesn’t just have a motor. That’s one attribute, but he also was arguably the best player for us in the World Cup. Bradley was, very little debate, our worst player.

        Our goal is to go deep in the WC, not beat Honduras. We need to develop the other players in those tough environments, and have Jones sub in if they struggle. Experience does not beat ability.

        No. Our goal is qualify for the World Cup. I have no idea why so many fans believe national team managers “develop” players. That’s the job of the club manager, not the national team manager.

        …so many things mind-boggling about your post I’m giving up going on addressing them point by point to save time.

    • I don’t think you can leave Jones on the bench in an important away qualifier when toughness will be at a premium. The USMNT eliminated Panama last cycle and they mix it up as well as anyone. I can never figure out why people consistently give MB the benefit of the doubt when he has a bad night, as he did in CR, but insist on benching JJ for his bad game. You’re going to want Jones on the field playing near Pulisic. I’m not saying Pulisic isn’t tough, but Panama is going to try to put a big hurt on him after what he did to Honduras. Bedoya and Acosta can mix it up too, but Jones is special in that department.

  8. Agreed, this is pretty much a no-brainer. Jones will start. The only real decision is Ream or Besler. Arena saw them both in training and he went with Ream when Brooks went out, so even that might be settled.

    Of course, coaches do love to meddle, so we’ll see.

  9. I penciled in the same starting line-up, except Beasley instead of Sueno. I thought Villafana did a nice job at home in his first WCQ start, but playing on the road in CONCACAF is something else entirely. Better to go with experience in DMB.

  10. After Friday’s performance I hate to question Dempsey but I don’t think he planned on going 90 and with a fairly quick turnaround can and travel would it be better to go with a 4-5-1 leaving CP22 in the 10 role in front of MB and JJ and AB (even though I don’t like him starting but did have a decent game) on the right. Bring in Dempsey in the second half late or if needed a goal.

    • You are making Dempsey out to be more fragile than he is. I think that people quickly forget that these are professional athletes. They don’t have to do anything but exercise and play their sport. Dempsey is considered “old” in the sports world be he’s a man in his early thirties, that’s not old. I know of people in their fifties and sixties that are those running junkies, the types that go to every marathon and 5k they can possibly attend, that run 10 or 20 miles almost daily (which is insane by the way). I’m sure Dempsey can handle a game on Friday then a game on Tuesday, even with his bum ticker. If anything Dempsey is well rested coming off his long layoff. And I’m sure his ticker was fixed with brand new batteries and everything.

      • Good point. And to be honest, Dempsey looked sharp, quick, and covered as much ground as I’ve ever seen from him… I think it’s much more likely that he starts and then comes off early if we get up. You can tell how much respect he commands in the locker room. I don’t think there’s any way he doesn’t start.

      • Didn’t say he was fragile or shouldn’t start, I sure he will start. My point was if he can’t go the full 90 would u rather it be tied and have to pull him out of the game or would u rather it be tied and he comes in to the game. I think since he has gone 90 every game since he returned it’s a valid question.

      • I get your point and your concern, but my point is that he should absolutely be able to go 90 and he will be able to go 90.

      • I don’t think it jas anything to do with him being a world class athlete but about him just coming back from a rather serious heart condition and pushing the pause button on over doing it too early in his comeback. No one is or will ever question his ability(friday proved that)but it’s about being smart and maybe the smart thing to do is sit him for a half and see how things play out, but ofcourse i’m not with the team or it’s manager haha

    • Agreed.


  11. I can’t disagree too much with that lineup. My only question is how much does it effect the style/play of the U.S. to push Pulisic out wide? I know Jones isn’t suited to play out there, so it makes the most sense. Just hope Arenas is ready to pull Jones for someone like Bedoya and push Pulisic into the middle if it isn’t working. Also, I REALLY wish Omar G wasn’t starting. Just too many issues with his play. Would much rather have Zusi playing RB and move Cameron back inside.

    • You are never going to get Arena to put Gonzales on the bench if he is not injured. he plays a lot better with Besler than anybody except AJDlG. They need a 6’4″ centerback in the middle and no one is as good for aerial defending as Gonzales, except maybe Brooks.

      I think Arena will want JJ in there but where to put him? I expect Arena to put JJ as the d mid, and giving Bradley more opportunities to go forward. Pulisic on the right, as he has played there for club and country, although expect him to move inside at times.

      What will be interesting to see what Arena does with the left back, Does he bring in the Beas, or don’t fix whats not broken

      Also expect that yellow cards may have an effect on Arena’s decisions.


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