Top Stories

Who Should the USMNT Start vs. Venezuela?

It’s an important period for the U.S. Men’s National Team. Vital World Cup qualifiers are suddenly set to begin as the U.S. looks ahead to matches against Trinidad & Tobago and Mexico.

But first, the U.S. faces off with Venezuela in Saturday’s friendly, a match that gives Bruce Arena to integrate and experiment a bit while utilizing his first-choice lineup for the very first time.

For the first time under Arena, the U.S. is generally healthy and ready to go. Players like Fabian Johnson, DeAndre Yedlin and Bobby Wood are in camp following strong European seasons while Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey are in shape now that the MLS season is in full swing. Arena finally has a full arsenal, and he could certainly use it against Venezuela.

Still, expect some shuffling and experimentation as big matches loom. Saturday’s match is a perfect chance to develop much-needed chemistry and flow, but look for Arena to experiment a bit too.

With that in mind, here’s a look at one lineup Arena could go with on Saturday:

Some thoughts:

With T&T and Mexico looming, it makes sense for Bruce Arena to deploy his first-choice lineup. To date, that lineup has largely been separated for a variety of reasons as the U.S. hasn’t truly been at full strength since the Copa America. Saturday’s match provides a chance for that unit to get some decent work in, even if it is brief.

Starting from the back, we know Howard will be the first-choice goalkeeper, so you can pencil him in for at least some gametime on Saturday. Nick Rimando, Ethan Horvath and Brad Guzan are also on the roster, and Arena may be tempted to give the former some minutes in front of his home crowd late in the game.

Defensively, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron are both healthy. The two remain the first-choice centerback pairing, even if options like Omar Gonzalez are riding strong club seasons. At right back, DeAndre Yedlin is all but penciled in as he joins an Arena-led camp for the first time.

Left back is a point of contention (as always). Arena has stated that he would like to push Fabian Johnson up the field and into his club role of left midfield, so let’s assume he takes that option. That leaved left back open for Jorge Villafana who, so far, has done quite well. Villafana has proven to be an answer at the position thus far, so one would expect him to get the nod through the upcoming qualifiers.

The midfield picture has options, even if the No. 6 is locked down by Michael Bradley. If Arena goes with a 4-4-2, someone like Alejandro Bedoya, Darlington Nagbe or even Dax McCarty could slide in, and that might be the move to make against a Mexico team that will bring the heat at the Azteca. However, against T&T the U.S. could, and should, be a bit more adventurous, leaving Bradley to do the dirty work with talented attackers in front of him.

With Johnson on the left and Christian Pulisic on the right, the U.S. has plenty of attacking firepower on the wings, especially with Yedlin’s ability to get forward. Johnson and Pulisic should prove a handful for any team in CONCACAF, although it remains to be seen how the chemistry works with both winger and fullback pairings.

Then there’s the forward position. Back in the fold following his heart issue, Clint Dempsey is back to his old self, and on the cusp of tying a USMNT record. He can play in a more withdrawn role, opening the door for Bobby Wood and Jozy Altidore to re-form their partnership for the first time under Arena. It’s important that Wood and Altidore continue to get reps together, forming a bit of chemistry as they continue.

With that in mind, don’t expect this XI to stay on the field very long. Arena says he anticipates plenty of substitutions, giving him a chance to check out plenty of options. With such a short turnaround between T&T and Mexico, Arena will need more than just his first choice XI, and the Venezuela match provides the perfect opportunity to experiment a bit once the first team has gotten their game time in.


  1. agree that Arena should begin looking for a MB replacement just on principle. But, if it does happen it will probably be at the Gold Cup unless there is an injury. The best thing that ever happened to MB in his international career was not seeing the field for a while early in the JK era after playing 90 minutes for pretty much every game during his father’s tenure. When he got his next chance he upped his game and showed his mettle. It’s not good for any player long term to know they will start no matter what their performance looks like. Clint knows Woods and Pulisic are ready to step in. That’s true for every position on the pitch right now except one. That has to change.

  2. I expect the starting 11 to be the starting 11 against T%T and certainly against Mexico, barring injury. Of course in the friendly, multiple subs will come in at half or very shortly after. If any player from the starting 11 is rested vs T&T, it will be to recover from slight injury or for worries about fitness.

  3. Its a friendly why not go crazy


    Or how about

    I see neither of these happening in a million years by the way.

  4. If we get 3 points vs t&t…fingers crossed. If move yedlin up for pulisic. Pulisic for Dempsey. And Dempsey for either forward vs Mexico. Go for the point

  5. Obviously, in a friendly, it’s wise to respect experience. And this line up does that.

    I would be interested in seeing both Bradley and Dempsey moved to supportt roles rather that starting roles. Bradley’s play is has deteriorated markedly since leaving Roma. Clint is more affected by age than many think. I live in Seattle and see him alot. No one has more respect for Clint than I, but it’s time to ease him into a support role. And I believe he would score a good number of goals coming off the bench.

    Nagbe is in line for a midfield slot. Move Pulisic to the middle. If necessary, move Johnson to R but see what Nagbe can do.

    Bradley is more problematic. There are some good young players coming up. Gold cup should be a great audition.

  6. Whatever lineup is chosen for this game is probably going to be the same against T&T unless it is just awful. Having Dempsey, Altidore and Wood on the roster I hope he saves Wood as a sub for the first 2 and he starts him in Mexico. Change Dempsey for Wood and move CP to the 10 and have FJ and Nagbe on the wings. As bruce said they wont be the same teams and he probably trust Altidore and Dempsey more. Then against Mexico start Wood up top and go 5 in the midfield with FJ, MB, KA, CP and PA. Bruce did sub in KA and PA in panama and they got a little bit of experience in an away match in concacaf so not really expecting to win in Mexico why not blood some of the youth. Then can always bring in Dempsey or Altidore on late. As long as they get 3 points against T&T why not?

  7. my god, Johnson ,Cameron, Brooks and Bradley are like having 4 mastodons with minimal technique on the left and central side of the lineup. A good team would salivate to go against such sloppy players . Yedlin is not that good, only an adequate club type player with speed but no ball skills and questionable defense. Lets not get too enthusiastic with this average bunch. Nagbe is a much better addition, I think. Actually , getting rid of the oldtimers like Altidore ,And looking toward 2022 instead of 2018 would be a courageous but difficult thing to do . The under 20 could have the core of a superior team with a wonderful striker for a change.

  8. that lineup is almost perfect in my opinion but very offensive
    i think wood, dempsey or altidore out and acosta in

  9. that is a lot of forwards!, seems like they are forcing them on to the field together, whats wrong with having an impact substitute? it feels like a video game line up not a real life selection

    When venezuela has the ball this formation means dempsey is gonna be playing CM or bradley is gonna be tracking 3 guys. I don’t get to watch many sounders games so someone let me know if he can do that???

    also this is gonna make pulisic and johnson play as shuttlers, seems like a waste of their ability

    • I agree. Start with pulisic at the 10 and work from there. Also agree forcing Dempsey wood and altidore in the line up doesn’t make sense.

      • when the usmnt has a forward line like msn or bbc then force it together. But until then tailor the formation/tactics to the opponent, dont get outnumbered in the midfield unless ur setting a trap and maybe have some game to game continuity on the back line. Not much to ask right?

  10. It’s tough to predict because it’s hard to sit certain players if u want the best attacking lineup or the safest lineup.

  11. That works against T&T, but not against in Mexico City in the altitude. You cant bunker down with one defensive midfielder. You need Nagbe as a holding midfielder alongside MB in Mexico. One of the 3 forwards(Altodore, Wood, Dempsey) will have to sit. Gonzalez will start over Brooks because he is used to playing in Mexico(Altitude).

    • This is the projected lineup for Venezuela and it’s probably our best eleven. I suspect he will play this group for the first half and then substitute liberally. They will be good enough to take care of T&T, but I suspect that Arena may move Fabian to left back and bring in another defensive mid for Mexico. At least, that is what I would do. In Mexico you play for the draw and hope to hit them on counter attacks. With Pulisic on the wing, Wood up top, and Fabian and Yedlin at fullback, we certainly have the speed for a counter attack off of any turnovers.

    • While you do not lose your total altitude fitness very fast, Gonzales trained with the LAG for several weeks before joining the team in Colorado, you can lose a significant amount of red blood cells in that time. Going to Colorado at 6K feet, is really only an adequate prep for Mexico City at 7.3K, that extra 1000 feet of altitude and be a real influence. But for 90 min, the US should be OK. I think Vilafana and Gonzales, plus other players with Liga Mx experience can expect playing time.

      • Yes that does happen. But I played for two years in a place where the altitude was 7,700 feet (similar to Mexico parts of Mexico). What I noticed was when back at that altitude, I adjusted quickly. (n=1; so take it for what it’s worth).

      • Two weeks of traiinng at altitude will reduce the major impacts of exercising at altitude (but you will always perform endurance events at a lower level than you would at sea level). Actually, it takes more than a couple weeks to fully adapt to altitude.

        The reason to bother is that some people, fairly unpredictable as to who, get mild acute altitude sickness for a few days when going from sea level to altitude. Such mild sickness is not much of a problem for a tourist ( if you don’t count headaches, lethargy and generally feeling bad much of a problem), but it can limit an athletes ability to compete.

  12. Not sure Bruce will even use his first choice line up given they are playing three games in nine days with the last two being qualifiers.

  13. I’d personally bump Fabian Johnson back to left back and play Darlington Nagbe at left wing but that’s me. I like FJ a lot as an outside back – especially as a right back – but he’s just simply not as quick, sudden, elusive, or good on the ball as a Darlington Nagbe is.

    Villafana’s an OK left back at best on the International level. He’s a little more solid defensively than, say, Edgar Castillo was, but he’s not as dangerous going forward either and he’s got the same problem Castillo did, which is that he can get burned by a winger with genuine pace.

  14. Anyone else notice a massive defensive liability in front of our 2 CBs?

    Sports writers have to raise the question about why MB starts automatically but they never do.

    • What have you been watching? Bradley still is the most effective midfield defender the USA has at its disposal. It is true he is not a guy who throws his body at people and commits hard fouls,, but his positioning is outstanding, unlike Jones who too often gets caught playing like a 13 year-old throwing himself at any player who might have the ball and getting caught out of position when his aggressiveness leads him chasing. I do not mean to say that such aggressiveness cannot be useful, but it is also a liability that must be managed.

      If there is a replacement for Bradley on the squad it is much more likely Cameron than any other player, but we already know Cameron is needed elsewhere.

  15. I long for the day someone (besides me) can acknowledge that MB hasn’t been good in 3 years.

    However, that is the first choice lineup, and looks solid (again, besides Altidore and MB).

    • He hurt himself during warm-ups against Costa Rica during the last cycle, and has never been the same player since.

      • Couple insightful fans isn’t enough. Not sure why members of the media can’t begin to question this.

        I called for MB to sit when his dad got fired. I remember Klinsy did a few times, but everyone, including myself, quickly realized MB was the best player on the team, and his place had nothing to do with his dad. But his more recent poor play needs to stop being ignored. His place in the team needs to be questioned, especially with decent options (acosta/danny williams) around.

        Unsure why nobody, except a few fans, are willing to go there? Just because he’s captain? Because Arena won’t dare sit him?

        The only guaranteed places in the squad at this point should be Brooks, Yedlin, Pulisic, and FJ. Everyone else needs to be rotated based on form.

      • Lalas, Wynalda, and Ale Moreno have all questioned Bradley’s role. Bradley’s problem really is his skill set no longer fits with the US formation and style of play. He’s not a destroyer to sit in front and protect the CBs, he’s not a skilled enough passer under pressure to play the ball forward to connect the defense with the offense. In the past when the US played the “empty bucket” we brought the ball up the wings with Donovan and Dempsey or Howard/Keller just boomed it forward. MB could run into the spaces created by the wings and hit some shots from the top of the box. A 4-1-4-1 with MB in the middle of the 4 would fit him best, but there really isn’t a guy to play the DM and it forces one or two of Altidore, Wood, and Dempsey off the pitch. Our current best forward in Europe and 2nd and 3rd all time scorers to benefit Bradley which doesn’t seem worth it.

    • Yeah, but there is a question that has never really been answered: Who takes Bradley’s spot if you leave him out? There just doesn’t appear to be anyone who could handle that spot (especially with Jones out). Maybe Acosta will change that, but it’s easier to say that Bradley shouldn’t be playing than it is to come up with a good lineup that leaves him out.

    • Agreed. MB’s biggest weakness is that he is a defensive liability. Watch him when he’s off the ball next time USMNT play. He ball watches, drifts out of position, and does not track anyone. Often times he’s just running in circles. Good teams expose him. Mexico in the 4-2 Gold Cup win a few years ago is probably the best example. Against minnows where we force turnovers, he is very good. To his credit, he goes hard to win the first ball. But, if he doesn’t win the first ball, it’s like your midfield is playing a man down.

      • I could not disagree more. Just look at the role Toronto finally has him playing as the midfielder fronting the back line. That Toronto finally realized that attempting to fit Bradley into a spot where he is not really suited has paid dividends if for no other reason than it makes the team more structurally sound.

        There is a lot more to playing good defense than simply throwing your body about ala Mastroeni or Jones. Bradley always looks more comfortable when he has the field in front of him like Beckerman, but quicker and with a much better skill set. His ability to hit accurate long passes is the best on the squad. He is the one player teammates look for when they are under pressure and his movement assures he is in the right spot to relieve pressure.

        BTW, that ability to serve as the one to pass to when you are in trouble, too often leads to the one receiving the pass to come under immediate pressure. That inevitably leads to some turnovers when teammates pass the ball, not for any positive reason, but simply to get themselves out of a tight spot at any cost.

      • Agree with both of you. Bradley does seem more comfortable at the 6 position, he does have the ability to pick his head up and play a nice long ball, he is a better athlete than Beckerman. But he does not have the defensive smarts Beckerman has, and never will. Bradley’s defensive positioning is his weakness, and is often costly to the team.

        I agree that it doesn’t appear right now that we have an alternative, but have we ever really tried to find one? Perhaps give a couple players more run out than 20 min here or there? Over the last what 8 yrs or so? Did Jones, our unquestioned best player at the 2014 WC, ever get tried with a different partner?

        Cameron played all year as the Dmid against EPL competition, and we have some really in-form CBs on the bench. Acosta has had a fantastic start in MLS. McCarty has played as well as Bradley in the same league. And just maybe sitting Bradley would light a fire under him.

      • @job lost all credibility ranting about Beckerman. He sucks and is only decent against minnow team.

      • jb – That’s a great point about Dax. He is the one we have not seen nearly enough of in a national team jersey. Tony Tchani could have been another one, but I think he is very similar to Bradley, while not as good.

  16. That’s quite an impressive line-up. I look at it and think that with a couple of stretches, everyone could start for an EPL-level team

    • Now that you mention it, everyone in that lineup but Villafana has been a starter in the Bundesliga or Premier League at some point. That’s probably a first for us and pretty amazing progress compared to even just a few years ago. Now if only we could get a LB in a top league!


Leave a Comment