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Who Should the USMNT Start vs. Mexico?

Photo by Isaiah J. Downing/USA Today Sports

The U.S. Men’s National Team took care of business against Trinidad & Tobago. They earned all three points and put themselves in a good position halfway through World Cup qualifying.

Any points earned in Mexico are a bonus, and, despite the team’s history, the U.S. might just be strong enough to earn something from the harrowing Estadio Azteca.

The U.S. heads into Sunday’s match riding several strong performances since Bruce Arena’s hiring. The defense has been spectacular, allowing zero goals from open play, even if performances have certainly been up and down.

After displaying several looks over the past two games, Arena has options heading into Sunday’s match, offering the USMNT several different potential setups.

Here’s a look at one possible lineup:



Some thoughts:

Against Venezuela, Bruce Arena unveiled a five-at-the-back formation. It’s a system that makes good use of the USMNT’s best players. It’s not one for every game and every situation, but Sunday’s match is exactly the game and situation to run it out.

Inserting Omar Gonzalez into the lineup gives the U.S. another strong presence at the back, and they’ll need it at the Azteca. Gonzalez is battle-tested in exactly these types of situations as he should provide valuable leadership in the heart of the defense. Alongside him, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron return to the lineup while DeAndre Yedlin and Jorge Villafana are given room to attack. That should be a benefit to Yedlin in particular as the Newcastle fullback could cause major problems down the right side.

At times, the formation could even look like a more traditional four-at-the-back set with Cameron on the right and Yedlin higher up. There’s wiggle room, but there’s also a more steady presence if Mexico brings wave after wave of attack.

The midfield will certainly feature Michael Bradley and Christian Pulisic, but Arena does have options when deciding who joins them. Darlington Nagbe did a wonderful job against T&T, but Alejandro Bedoya’s presence may be a bit more steady in such a big game. There’s also Kellyn Acosta if Arena wants to go defensive, but his youth and inexperience may keep him out of the starting XI.

As for forward, Clint Dempsey will be especially hungry against Mexico, but he may be a better option as a super sub. Bobby Wood’s speed and Jozy Altidore’s hold up play will be vital to hitting Mexico on the counter, making them ideal options to start. Dempsey coming off the bench is a dangerous weapon, especially as he pushes for the USMNT record.

Overall, it’s a lineup that focuses on safety, although Arena may very well be tempted to go for it given how little the U.S. has to lose. It’s a look that could change throughout the match, and one that could be key towards keeping Mexico quiet in the vaunted Estadio Azteca.


  1. Without seeing data proving, I’m safely assuming we have our two slowest defenders in the backline against Mexico (Ream and Gonzalez).

    Arena has forgotten more soccer than I’ll ever know, so, in Arena we trust. With that said, scary stuff.

  2. Mexico, under Osario, likes to play long diagonal balls into the corner and then either cross or attack on the dribble and cut back. The best way to stop that is to apply high pressure to the midfield so that any long diagonal balls are blind hopeful boots upfield, not passes aimed at an open target and most of the long balls would be prevented by lack of time.

    I think it is too late if the US does not pressure until after a wing player can get his head up and either cross or dribble. Mexico has enough talent that the dribble will break down the US defense more often than we would like and the cross option becomes effective if the CBs have to help with the dribblers.

    I wold prefer any setup that can maintain pressure at midfield, but at altitude, that can be hard to maintain.

  3. Interesting starting lineup from Bruce. Looks like a 5221:
    Pulisic Arriola
    Bradley Acosta
    Beasley Ream Gonzalez Cameron Yedlin

    I’m not sure how you leave brooks out vs gonzalez, but ream and cameron make sense for this formation. Beasley is a bit surprising but he is probably more attacking minded than Villafana. Arriola comes out of nowhere but he is familiar with mexican opposition so I guess that kinda makes sense? He, pulisic, and wood, not to mention yedlin and beasley overlapping, do give some pace to this side.

    Guzan is the only one that makes zero sense, unless perhaps Howard is not up to two back to back games at his age. Surprising.

    Well, here’s hoping for a win. Go USA!

  4. Playing for draw = USNT lost!

    instead play 4-5-1 formation:


    Bradley-Nagbe-Bedoya -Pulisic


    Altidore was far superior causing damage & holding the ball last “azteca game”, than Dempsey, plus Dempsey could be super sub do real damage to mexico.

    Bedoya & Pulisic are multi-position players, both Bedoya & Pulisc could switch position during the game if things aren not work well. Johnson starting over Bedoya isn’t bad either. Keep Bradley in front of back four & Nagbe as 8# or 10#.

  5. Bruce just said in an interview on Fox that we will have 7 new starters vs the T&T lineup. (Imagine the uproar if Klinsmann had done this)

    This was the T&T lineup:
    Howard, Villafana, Brooks, Cameron, Yedlin, Bradley, Johnson, Nagbe, Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

    Bruce also said that he hopes to be at least tied at the 70 minute mark and then try to push for the win in the last 20 minutes. These 2 things tell me we will see Wood start as a lone forward, with Dempsey as 70th minute super sub.

    Who do we think are the 5 repeat starters?

    Howard (big gap between him and his backups)
    Cameron (our best defensive player)
    Pulisic (our best offensive player)
    Nagbe (coming off a fantastic game)
    Bradley (son of a former coach)

    Which leaves Altidore, Dempsey, Villafana, Brooks(!), Yedlin(!), and Johnson(!) on the bench.

    Is Bruce going to somehow go with a 3-5-2 (where Pulisic and Wood are the 2)?

  6. Wood

    FJ Acosta CP Arriola
    Villafana Brooks Cameron Yedlin
    Arriola because he gives a little more defensive help than nagbe and a more offensive presence than Bedoya.
    Acosta needs to play and with him in a box to box role, CP can still stay pushed up high while MB plays deep as always and Acosta can take up the space in between that every team seems to take advantage of

  7. Not gonna lie, Ives. I really don’t like your recommend lineup, and I’d be pretty frustrated if we marched those boys out against Mexico. Beasley and Bedoya? I don’t see how starting either of those players makes sense. Let’s play some attacking football and let the chips fall where they may.

  8. This go around at Azteca you bunker and counter. Best way to deploy with this group is 3-5-2

    Altidore – Wood
    Johnson – Bradley – McCarty – Yedlin
    Gonzales – Brooks – Cameron

    Dempsey is SuperSub

    • Why this go around? The odds of us getting points at Azteca are small, and although points would be great, we can qualify without them. I think it is as important tonight to pick a starting lineup that will be our eleven going forward, throw them in the deep end, and hope the start to swim like Michael Phelps. I see no downside to starting our normal lineup.

      • Momentum is fickle. Taking a point at Azteca with a chance to steal 3 is important. More important is not getting destroyed on the scoreboard and between the ears.

  9. Isn’t this the type lineup and approach that boggled everyone and eventually got JK fired? Here is a great idea, let’s start a completely new lineup with a rarely played formation against our biggest rivalry?
    Is this writer Ives ghost writer on his site?
    Who will connect with Pulisic, Wood, and Altidore? Bradley and Bedoya? Banking on the few times Yedlin can out run Mexico?
    If Villafana starts he needs either F.Johnson or Nagbe on his side to provide cover. Also the link up to the top three will come from Bradley, Johnson and Nagbe.

    • Exactly, the point of bringing in Arena was to bring stability to the team, both in the locker room and on the field. We need to pick a starting lineup and stick with it (depending on injury and cards of course) minus a small tweak here and there.

  10. 4-1-4-1 or 4-3-3


    Arriola has experience in the Azteca, granted crowds aren’t as big for Club America. FJ has not looked good so wouldn’t be surprised to see him start on the bench.

  11. I would rather go with a 4-5-1 in this game:

    —– wood —–
    —– Pulisic —–
    – Bradley-Acosta –

    I see no reason to change the back four, they need a game like this to gel and gain the experience we need for them as a unit going forward. Adding Acosta should bring more defensive help in the middle, where Mexico likes to dominate. Wood up top will run all game, forcing some quick passes and hopefully turnovers. Demps will be a great late game sub because he will be mad that he did not start, and will take that out on anyone in front of him!

    Not giving Nagbe and Villafana starts and bringing in players with less to offer other than experience just because they been there before sounds like negative thinking to me, and this team needs to start believing it has what it takes to get points anywhere anytime. Azteca can be intimidating, getting that fear out of the way now allows the younger players to grow before the bigger stage to come.

    • this line up, they could probably play this way all the time if acosta blossoms into a complete international player

  12. Mexico gets frustrated with a side that defends more than it pushes up the field. Remember Mexico’s recent loss to the Serbia ‘C’ Team?
    My line up is…..

  13. I remain unimpressed with this formation.

    Considering the US is going against a side that will look to dominate possession centrally, I’d rather see a move back to a 4-4-2. The diamond looked way too vunerable against a bad T&T side. However, Arena is all about consistency. So, perhaps it continues to improve?

    It’s weird not seeing a lineup projected with Dempsey in the most hostile venue within our region. Not sure how I feel about that other than Father Time remains undefeated.

      • I haven’t forgotten how poor we looked against a feeble Venezuela side, or an inferior T&T side with this same formation.

        This is Mexico. Caution is to be expected.

  14. I’d be happy with this for speed on the counter:


    Morris with Wood have played well together the few times we’ve seen them.

  15. Wow…that is an interesting lineup. Not a fan of five in the back. Too defensive and not dynamic enough going forward. I like Altidore and Wood up top and then bring in Dempsey with 30 to go, when Mexico’s defense is tired. I like F. Johnson in midfield, but we need him in the back to help tonight. I also still prefer Nagbe in the middle with Pulisic playing out wide. Don’t think it will happen, just my preference.




    F. Johnson–Brooks–Cameron–Yedlin

    Go U.S.


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