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Who should the USMNT start against Trinidad & Tobago?

Photo by Jeffrey Swinger/USA Today Sports

Bruce Arena has much to think about over the next few days. The U.S. Men’s National Team faces two of the biggest matches of the World Cup qualifying cycle in rapid succession while battling short rest and altitude along the way. There will no doubt be some shuffling required from Arena, who is charged with helping further the USMNT’s World Cup push with results over the next few days.

The first of those results must come on Thursday as the U.S. plays host to Trinidad & Tobago at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. The U.S. will be favored to snag points from the Soca Warriors, who currently sit last in the Hexagonal. It’s a match where the Americans will need to be at their best, though, as the Soca Warriors possess a dangerous, rapid counter attack that could cause problems for the backline.

A potential injury to John Brooks serves as a concern for the U.S., who is relatively healthy for the first time under Arena. Brooks, though, may be ready to go, giving Arena a full complement of stars heading into Thursday’s match.

Here’s a look at one possible USMNT lineup for Thursday’s match:

Some thoughts:

A majority of the lineup is locked in, but there are some tweaks to be made. Arena recently said he doesn’t expect the exact same XI for both the T&T game and the Mexico visit, and it makes sense given the tasks at hand. Against T&T, the U.S. will have a bulk of the possession and will need more creative options. Against Mexico, the U.S. will need to be quicker and more decisive as they likely look to get out on the counter.

With that in mine, one would expect to see the diamond 4-4-2 formation again as it gives the U.S. the weapons and setup to attacking the T&T defense from a variety of angles. Up top, you’ll likely see Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey with Bobby Wood serving as a bench option. Altidore is the USMNT’s all-time leading scorer against T&T and his ability to batter his way through the Soca Warriors defense will be valuable while Dempsey, one short of the USMNT’s all-time goalscoring record, provides creativity on the ball against what will likely be a bunkered defensive unit.

Wood’s game, meanwhile, will likely be a better fit for the Mexico game while Dempsey’s likely will not. It’s a logical switch and one that makes the best use of the USMNT’s depth at the forward position.

Then there are shifts to make defensively. If there is a single shred of doubt regarding John Brooks’ health, you have to keep him out for this initial match. His status against Mexico is far too important to risk him in a T&T match that will likely require significantly less defending. Yes, the Soca Warriors are dangerous on the counter and, yes, Thurday’s match is all but a must-win, but someone like Omar Gonzalez should be able to get the job done. That allows you to save Brooks for Mexico, a match where the U.S. certainly could deploy the three-at-the-back formation they unveiled for a bit against Venezuela.

As for the rest of the team, Christian Pulisic will once again be a vital piece. He’s shown well from the No. 10 spot so far and his ability to beat players one-on-one should open up gaps within the defense. The same could be said for Fabian Johnson and Darlington Nagbe, even if the two were somewhat quiet in the Venezuela friendly.

The above lineup is one tailored for this game, even if it may not 100 percent be the USMNT’s best. It’s one that should be able to get the job done and, ultimately, seal all three points ahead of a trip to the Azteca.


  1. I think that the U. S. not only needs to win against TNT, but to do so convincingly so that they can
    build some confidence going into the Mexico Match. I think they can get at least a draw at Azteca if they can develop the right attitude. I feel the talent is now in place.

  2. I think another thing some don’t realize is no matter where u line up CP he’s going to be the best in that position so u have to figure out would the center midfielders be stronger with him on the wing or the wingers be stronger with him in the center midfield, I think if u can find the stronger option then Bruce would have to go with that. I think he would benefit from a 5 man midfield in the center but on the wing in a 4 man midfield.

  3. —————Morris———————Wood—————






    Though it will never happen, Altidore, Bradley and Deuce should come off the bench, and let the “young contingent” have a go at the helm. The veterans didn’t look good or sharp, or like a threat at all during the Venezuela game. I hope Bruce goes with the players that are sharp in camp and not just based on experience

  4. I think Omar should start vs. T&T and Brooks vs. Mexico. A three CB backline of Omar, Brooks and Cameron vs. Mexico Perhaps? And have Wood. Pulisic, Nagbe and Johnson countering and with defensive responsibilities as well. That would be interesting. Hopefully enough for a 0-0 or 1-0 US win.

    • I’m all for resting Brooks vs T&T if he’s not 100% and saving him for the Mexico match.

      As for a back-3 with Omar, his inability to cover space leaves me incredibly concerned. Despite my disdain for Mexico, in my eyes Hernandez is the best poacher in the world. I’d be white knucked the entire match with Gonzalez out there against that attack, and responsible for even more real-estate.

      Gonzalez remains a huge liability against a side like Mexico and I hope we have Cameron and Brooks healthy to avoid said risk.

      • Ok, but What about a back three of Besler/Ream, Cameron, Brooks and bradley in front? I feel like I could live with that… especially since you would still have yedlin and fabian out there… But again, I have said that I will never again be pushing for the 3 man back line after the disaster of November. So I will stick to that and remain equivocal on whether we will ever be ready for a 3 man back line (even though I think it fits us really well… its just not drilled or something… not sure what the knock on our guys/coaching is).

    • Mexico almost always dominates possession when they play us. I can’t think of a time when that hasn’t happened. Usually when we play them, their midfield totally dominates and their wings make trouble all game. I can’t understand how a 3 man backline is advantageous in that situation. It makes more sense to me when we’re playing T&T at home when we should dominate and they will probably bunker down.

      • So possession teams is exactly when you go to a 3 man back-line. You have to play it right… but the way Italy ended Spain’s tiki-taka run was by going to a 5 man midfield. The reason is that attacking, possession teams play with at least 4 MF (Spain had 5, sometimes even had 6 depending on if they had a real forward available or not). So if you come out with 4MF, then it is 1v1 in the MF… but if you come out with 5, then there is a second guy you can use to trap them and press them and make them give up possession. That is what Italy did and neutralized Spain in the Euros in 2012. Then the Dutch did it in 2014. Now the game has changed, check out how much more direct the top teams play.

        Now, if our players aren’t good enough to press properly, then that is a different story. but the reason to put 5 in MF against a possession team is specifically to break up their possession.

  5. OK, so you guys… first Tolmich… you say they are resting Brooks… then your lineup pic shows Brooks in there. What gives? Second everyone else… I don’t like Nagbe… I don’t like Dempsey… listen to yourselves, its embarrasing. Old School, I didn’t see the Venezuela game, so I’ll take you at your word… but its a tune-up friendly. Since when do you think that is an indicator of anything? Do I have to go to the way back machine?

    As for FabJo on the right or left… you guys all seem to think that a coach draws up a lineup, and then its like that hockey game where the players slide up and down in straight lines… If FabJo and someone else are wing players, they will flip sides as needed and as they feel comfortable. Soccer isn’t static.

    • its a tune-up friendly.

      They were flat, uninspired, congested, and lacking anything you can say “Well, it was a tune-up, but at least “that” (aspect X) looked good going into the qualifiers.

      I’m really hoping more positives are taking place in training, and the performance was simply the players staying in 1st gear knowing the critical matches were upcoming.

      • They were flat, uninspired, congested, and lacking anything you can say “Well, it was a tune-up, but at least “PULISIC” (aspect X) looked good going into the qualifiers.”

    • What about Nagbe do you like? he has had a lack of productivity and a lack of vision to see the runs of others. He puts his head down and runs at someone, but does not know when to give it off and usually loses the ball with players in front of him. I am not saying he is not a good player, but he is not what we need right now, in my opinion.

      As for Demps, he is an enigma. He is going to be the all time goal scorer, and is our most deadly attacker, but his lack of defense and his tendency to get lost in some games means we are not always playing at full strength on defense when we really need it. I think he should transition to our super sub so he can put everything he has into it for 20 minutes without worrying about reserving anything for later in the game, ala Cobi Jones.

      FJ looked lost in the last game. Yes, it was one game and a friendly at that, but it did not work. I hope it gets better, but I also think the team is more used to him on the left, so maybe that is a better spot for him?

      With the pressure this team is under, every game is important, even friendlies. We cannot have missteps anymore, so the tension and criticism of the small details should be expected.

      • I personally like everything about Nagbes’ game, I mentioned his strengths above. I guess people would rather have Bedoya, Dax or Acosta in there right?? I actually like Acosta too but he’s not the type of creative player Nagbe is, and he may not be racking up assist for the Nats just yet but his play for the Timbers shows you what he can do when given more time to get continuity with the NT. I’m done with trotting out Bedoya and other non creative types that can’t maintain the ball or provide nothing offensively. Goals win games not hard workers, who are constantly praised for simply giving everything for the team, we’ll never progress that way!

      • What is it I like about Nagbe? who would you rather play? and I swear if you say Burnbury or some 16 yr. old, my brain will explode. People who are whining about Nagbe playing or Dempsey, or my god FJ… its like they just are hedging in case we lose. see, I told you we should have started [INSERT RANDOM NAME HERE]. People whined about not playing Nagbe under JK, now he is not good enough? Dempsey… he is a top 5 best field player ever and he still has gas. Like I said, I don’t care if he shows up with a beach chair. You play him and tell him to go score goals. But this line-up whingeing is terrible because its like oh god, these guys aren’t good enough. They are, and they are our best, and they are capable. And regardless of what I think about Nagbe, you won’t hear me saying I don’t think he’s good enough…

      • I would play Pulisic out wide and Acosta in the middle as a #8, allowing MB to sit deep where he want to and let Demps slide under the forward as a second striker. From what I have seen, Nagbe plays his own game and does not play forward passes enough or break down the defense to the point that he creates real chances. Mostly he dribbles forward 20 yards and then turns and gives the ball to MB. Sorry if that is not good enough for you, but that is my opinion based on what I see. I am not yelling for change, but I am giving my suggestions on what I would do.

        On that note, why so angry bro? I never yelled or screamed or said anything outrageous to you or anyone. Why are you so frustrated that people on a soccer blog want to give their opinions and talk about what might/should/will happen. I get you think you know more than everyone else, but I ask you to at least respect that others’ opinions are just as valid as yours. Have a good day and go USA!

  6. I like this lineup except for Nagbe, who I think would be best as a second-half sub when his dribbling runs might have a better chance of producing a final pass or shot against tired defenders. I would: (1) move Pulisic to RW for this game so he can take on defenders and create from out there (which goes well with targets like Alidore and Dempsey in the middle); (2) move Johnson to his more natural LW position; and (3) play McCarty at DM with Bradley moved into a No. 8 role.

    I’m not a huge Dax fan, but he’s been getting it done in MLS for ages now and can certainly get the job done at home against T&T. Plus, if we get the game in hand we can pull Bradley for Acosta around the 60′ mark and keep Bradley fresh for Azteca.

    • I’ve been a Dax fan for quite a while, ever since he played for our national youth teams. IMHO, he is much better than Beckerman, who managed to do okay for us for several years. Also, Dax started out as a playmaker and is a much better passer than most of our midfielders. His problem is the numbers game; we have a lot of good midfielders, so who does he replace? He’s probably best as a second half sub to protect a lead.

  7. I may be in the minority, but I am not a fan of Nagbe’s game. He has not produced anything other than some nice box to box runs, but they never made a difference. I would rather see Pulisic on the left, and Acosta in front of Bradley. I know this is the dreaded empty bucket, but I think Acosta can take over the Jones role as the high energy box-to-box player that allows MB to sit deep like he wants to. This also gets Pulisic out of the middle where he needs to exert too much defensive energy and allows him the space to create on the outside. Dempsey can drop back to make it more of a 4-5-1 when needed, and Jozy can make his diagonal runs to open up space behind. I would actually play Acosta as the 6 and Nagbe in front of him, but we all know that is never going to happen for some reason!

    • I’m frustrated with Nagbe as well, he can make really good runs with the ball at his feet but unlike Pulisic or Donovan of the past, he never finishes that run with the decisive pass that creates a scoring opportunity.

      • Which is why Lee N would have been a better choice. Lee can and does score. Nagbe just looks nice

    • I agree re Nagbe. Lots of smoke, but no fire. I’d also prefer Acosta to work with Altidore, Pulisic and Bradley. But Dempsey may be the biggest question mark. Against Venezuela, he simply did not perform, making only 15 passes during his minutes. In many fewer minutes, Acosta generated substantially more product. I don’t know whether Dempsey’s poor performance is reflects on the current Dempsey or is out of the ordinary, but if I were BA, I’d be concerned.

      • I agree about Demps, he is one of the most prolific and yet frustrating players to play for the USMNT, and the older he gets the more obvious the issue is. He scores in big moments, but spends most of the rest of the game hurting us defensively and being too selfish in attack. I actually think playing Wood up top, Pulisic underneath as a second striker, and Acosta behind him would be optimal in terms of creatives and defensive effort.

        My earlier lineup was with the assumption that Demps will start, but I am not sold that he wouldn’t be a better late game sub ala Cobi Jones near the end of his career to be a pest and high energy attacker for 15 minutes. The question would then be, who fills in on the left side if Pulisic moves to Demps’ role? Nagbe on the outside is no good for the team shape, maybe FJ on the left and Bedoya on the right to allow Yedlin to get forward more?

    • if you are not impress with Darlington Nagbe how do you feel about Michael Bradley???? Like, why does he ALWAYS get a pass?

      Player ratings VS Venezuela:

      Michael Bradley (5.5) – Apart from one bad giveaway, Bradley was decent but unspectacular on the ball. He also did a solid job of stepping in to halt rushes up the middle, but was bailed out by Howard after snoozing on a corner kick mark.

      Fabian Johnson (5)

      Christian Pulisic (7.5) – For most of the match, the Borussia Dortmund prodigy was solid without quite being deadly. When the clock struck the hour, he came up with a huge play to impact the outcome. Pulisic’s coolness at the top of the box started with a patient space-making maneuver and ended with a well-placed shot to tie the game.

      Darlington Nagbe (7) – This was a “just what you’d expect” showing from the Portland possession master, who time after time was key in keeping his team on the front foot.

      Clint Dempsey (4.5)

      Bobby Wood (4.5)

      ***Food for thought

      • Fabian assisted pulisic’s goal on a typically well timed, well paced entry pass on the ground. Try again.

      • couldn’t agree more with this comment. I’ve been a bradley defender for a long time now but his performances lately are sub par. Nagbe absolutely offered more against Venezuela than Bradley relatively speaking. I know its not a like for like switch but I would love to see acosta in bradley’s position. Acosta seems much more capable of playing those incisive, offensive-minded passes from the d-mid role. Bradley just turns and plays it to the center backs or fullbacks. he kills the momentum.

      • I agree, and said so in my post. However I am also a realist and know he will be there so I penciled him in. Bradley plays on autopilot way too much, his passes are never dangerous and rarely even forward moving. He plays basically as a third central defender without any of the defensive skills. As Gary says below, his one asset to the team is experience. I would love to see someone else in the 6 spot, if for no other reason than to light a fire under his behind, but he will be there for these two games whether we like it or not.

      • 1. To say Bradley gets a pass on this board is untrue, after Jozy and Wondo he is the most criticized player (all certainly deserving at times). Until Bruce names another captain we all know he is going to start, so people aren’t spending a lot of time on MB today because we know he’s 99% to start. (I’m not going back to look, but there was quite a bit of talk about him starting last week before the friendly)

        2. Using match ratings from one website is hardly evidence of any player should start or not. Its the feelings of one reporter on one match. I averaged five different ratings from ESPN, MLS, SoccerAmerica, Yahoo, and NBC and Bradley averaged 5.3 and Nagbe 5.9, just above half a point better. One rater’s comment was that Nagbe is so hard to rate because he has a flash where he dribbles through traffic and goes from one box to the other and than completely disappears for large portions of the match.

        The bottom line is all three midfielders need to link better with with the three forwards (counting CP if he is in the point of the diamond).

      • So Johnnyrazor what is your argument??
        you are supporting my logic with MORE ratings from ESPN, MLS, SoccerAmerica, Yahoo, and NBC!!!!….that Nagbe was better than Bradley. If the stats that you gave showed Nagbe better than Bradley, on 5 accounts, then isn’t that the point I’m trying to make?!!
        So don’t Criticize Nagbe’s playing ability when he is playing better than the Captain.

    • I’m glad to see people with this view as I have been saying this for about a year or so. Nagbe is very one dimensional. I compare him to Dembele of Tottenham (not Dembele of Dortmund). If you need someone to dribble the ball from one box to another, he’s your guy. He’s very skilled with the ball and his game looks very pretty. But the end product isn’t there. When it comes to the killer pass, Kljestan is much better, even though SK often looks kind of gawky on the ball. As for MB vs. Acosta, Bradley hasn’t been shining in international play, but when I’ve seen him with TFC, he looks better. Perhaps he interprets his role differently with the nats? I like Acosta and we will probably see him as a regular, if not in 2018, then after that. MB has one thing Acosta lacks right now–lots of experience at the highest level and we need someone like that to shepherd the team through qualifying. We don’t need a flashy player at this point as defensive mid.

      • As I said in another column, the key to the team is deciding where Pulisic goes first, then laying in the others around him. If he plays in the middle we need a defensive minded winger to cover for his runs.

      • Nagbe is a player who is still trying to figure out his place in the team and trying to adjust to his teammates. Until Bruce was brought in to manage he was a late game sub who’s role was to try and kill off the game buy keeping possession. Now that he’s a starter he’s being asked to coordinate part of the attack and be a threat down the flank…feeding the strikers and circulating the ball. His effectiveness will improve as the team chemistry improves. I expect that by the end of the Gold Cup he’ll be up to speed and contributing at a much better clip.
        I kind of agree with Gilbert, that the team needs to be built around where Pulisic is played. If Pulisic is out wide….than Fabian should be on the opposite side with someone like Dempsey Centrally. Slide Pulisic centrally than it opens things up for Nagbe, Arriola, etc….to play opposite Fabian.

        I think the Gold Cup will likely help identify who’ll be the leading back-ups are for players like Fabian, Pulisic, Bradley, Wood Cameron & Dempsey. I’m hoping that Saief, Zardes, Roldan, Acosta, Corona, Lichaj, Miazga, & Morris all perform well. I think these are the most likely options to shine from those involved in the preliminary roster. Add the likes of Gooch & Hyndman in the near future and we’ll hopefully see the end of Wondo, Zusi, & Bedoya.

      • yeah i just don’t see this final pass from Klejstan that people continue to bring up, and clearly Arena doesn’t agree thus him not being called in. I agree with Lost on Nagbe, in that he is still finding his role with the team and whiile he hasn’t delivered the final pass sort of speak just yet, at least he is in attack mode, is looking to be creative and he tracks back on defense. Him maintaining possession is the big thing and for me and we aren’t used to someone with his ability to do so or with the knack to take defenders on since Donovan(obviously Pulisic does this too).

  8. This set-up looked horrible against a below average Venezuela side. I guess we’re hoping it suddenly clicks?

    • Horrible is probably not fair. A few moments of bad defending (which honestly will cost you against any team) aside, the us dominated possession and was just off in clicking in the final 3rd. I thought the team looked like a team that hadn’t gotten used to playing with each other yet.

    • Or how about we consider that it was the first time all of the preferred starters were starting their first game together under Arena and they had the altitude to deal with, which coming from personal experience i can tell you saps your energy and can make you look lethargic. Continuity will probably not rear its head until the end of the summer and possibly not until the fall so we need to give the system and the players with in it time to gel.

  9. Tough to argue with SBI’s lineup. Arena has already stated that we will not be “saving” anyone for Mexico. So I expect our top options to play in this game with an eye on 3 points. If/Once this crucial goal is achieved, we can figure out Mexico.

  10. I’m not an Omar hater by any means, but if Brooks can’t go I would much rather see Hedges at this point. Especially against T&T.

  11. I think that was a very insightful statement with regards to Dempsey/Bobby Wood. I believe, at this stage, our future lies with Wood, but due to the short turnaround and the nature of the two games (one primarily offensive, the other defensive), it makes sense to play Dempsey at home and Wood on the road. Wood and Pulisic’s pace are the primary factors in Dempsey’s goals for the past year (with the exception of the free kick goal), and I think it would be foolish to think he is the best option against superior teams.

    • I think it makes sense to rotate the squad a little with a result against Mexico in mind. If USMNT can’t get 3 point against TnT at home with Dempsey and a second choice CB instead of Wood and Brooks then they don’t really deserve to qualify anyway.

    • Meh, Dempsey is a killer. Put him in the big games (Mexico at Azteca… that’s a big game). I don’t care if he brings a beach chair for a half.

      • Dempsey is not a spring chicken..having started the Venezuela match, and seemingly in line to start vs T&T, there is no way he starts vs El Tri as well, but he’ll be a nice bench option though! The short turn around and altitude will all factor in to that decision as well!

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