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Who Should the USMNT Start vs. Nicaragua

With the U.S. Men’s National Team currently atop Group B heading into the final match-day of the group stage, a win or draw will guarantee their advancement.

The USMNT will now take on Nicaragua, currently sitting at the bottom of the group with two losses. While the Americans will be expected to win handily, things have proved to be more difficult than expected through their first two matches. After a lackluster draw against Panama and a way-too-close win over Martinique, Bruce Arena will be looking for far more from his team in match three.

With a few disappointing performances leaving the top of the group very much in play, Arena will likely go with a roster geared more towards securing a vital win than one used to experiment with his players. That means players who’ve had strong showings so far in the tournament will have the advantage in earning a spot in Saturday’s starting XI.

With that in mind, here’s a look at who Arena could turn to against Nicaragua:

The match on Saturday really is a must-win after such poor performances in the first two games. The USMNT needs to emerge atop their group and secure themselves the best possible path through the knockout stages of the tournament. With no help arriving until the six switches after the final group stage match, Arena will need to rely on those players who have proven they can perform in this tournament.

That rewarding of success begins along the front line, where Dom Dwyer has looked good in recent appearances. Though Jordan Morris had the more recent performance with a double in the team’s 3-2 win over Martinique, Dwyer has looked dangerous in each of his two starts against Ghana and Panama. Dwyer is exactly the type of workhorse that can keep a struggling Nicaragua team pinned back, though perhaps Morris makes an impact appearance as a second-half sub.

Rewarding success continues with the attacking midfield. Kelyn Rowe looked sharp in the tournament opener against Panama. He’s already linked up with Dwyer once for a goal, and it’ll be interesting to see whether that partnership can continue to develop. Joe Corona also looked good when paired with Dwyer in front of him and Rowe on his left, though Alejandro Bedoya could make sense in the center as well. Much like Dwyer, Paul Arriola is the type of workhorse on the right side that can take advantage of lesser defenses with his constant pressure. While he hasn’t been as sharp as Arena likely hoped, he would still be an effective pick on the right side as the U.S. will surely look to dominate the match and press hard upfield.

Dax McCarty looked poor in midfield against Panama, as he and Kellyn Acosta were simply overrun, but redeemed himself by coming in late against Martinique to seal the team’s victory. His stabilizing presence is difficult to replace, and Arena likely won’t try to replace it, instead allowing McCarty to play the defensive role he’s handled so well for the Chicago Fire this season. On the flip side, Acosta has looked good, but hasn’t yet had a rest in the tournament, and this could be the game where Arena let’s him get a bit. Alejandro Bedoya could slot into his role, a bit deeper than he’s used to playing, but with licence to bomb forward as needed. If Bedoya plays a more advanced position, perhaps in place of Corona, Cristian Roldan could get another run-out partnered with McCarty.

Finally, the back line is a group that Arena could choose to toy around with, given their struggles against Martinique. Omar Gonzalez had a rough match, and while he’s likely the most talented centerback option, it might be time to see what the Matts can do together. Besler has looked solid so far this tournament, and likely warrants another shot against Nicaragua, while Miazga hasn’t yet gotten a look. Arena will likely want to know what he has with Miazga, and could give him the run out here. Out wide, Eric Lichaj’s performance against Martinique warrants another shot out at right back on Saturday, though Graham Zusi certainly remains an option. On the left side, Jorge Villafana hasn’t looked spectacular, but should have less trouble against Nicaragua than he did against Panama.

In the end, Arena has plenty of options, though the performances of a few players like Dwyer and Rowe may take some of that choice away from him. Arena knows a win is vital against Nicaragua to secure Group B, and the lineup he selects will likely reflect that desire to dominate the match and keep control throughout.


  1. I know there are a lot of Zusi haters here, but I’d like to see him on the right and Lichaj on the left in defense. I’m not sold on Villafana and Morrow didn’t do enough to warrant another look against better competition.







    • No Bedoya. He’s brought any leadership, attacking, or defending benefits to the team through 3 matches. All he’s accomplished to do is show that he’s truly done at the international level.

  3. At this point we need a win, and a convincing one at that. Bruce needs to field his best possible line-up to insure that. Once the win is secure he can put in the lesser talent to evaluate them.
    therefore my starting XI would be the following:


    I don’t think it matters who plays as the GK for this game.

    Subs: Miazga, Zusi (pushing Lichaj to LB), Agudelo

    Bedoya has been the worst performer in the team. McCarty just doesn’t have enough to challenge anyone. Juan has been a spark, but hasn’t had any real impact.

      • You’re right, I’d forgotten Rowe’s performances. At this point Zardes & Arriola are neck & neck (IMO)….both have done some positives, but also have shown some flaws. Bring Rowe in for either, and use whichever was bumped to the benched as the Sub.

  4. I would play a diamond in the midfield of Dax at the six, Zardes and Rowe on the wings, and Corona as the playmaker. Up front we should go with Morris and Dwyer, which is the only starting combo we have not seen yet. Miazga for Hedges on defense, and I would try Lichaj at LB to see if he can move past Villafana on the depth chart.

    My choices are to force Corona into the playmaker role. If Dax sits deep, that allows Corona to move forward and play closer the the forwards. I want to see more desire to go forward, get chances and finish them. These guys need to drop the nerves, step up as pros, and play harder!

    • Yup. I’d bring in Miazga for Hedges, who has been terrible.

      I’d bring in Darlington Nagbe for either Arriola/Pontius. We desperately need a quality winger who can both possess and upset with his speed.

      I’d bring in either Sascha Klejstan, Benny Feilhaber, or heck, even Lee Nguyen for the other Arriola/Pontius. We desperately need a legit #10 and Corona just ain’t getting it done. Love him, hate him, or wanna slap him senseless, I personally think Benny F is the guy.

  5. I don’t think this is a “must-win” game. With 4 points already and the forgiving nature of this tourney, the US is already all but through to the quarters. Even with a shock loss, I can’t see the US not going through. So I think this is the last chance for Arena to experiment with players that haven’t seen the field much. Also the last chance to rest players that he’s going to count on in the knockout rounds. And honestly, if the players play with effort, anyone we field should be good enough to win this game. And if this team’s goal is to win the Gold Cup, then it doesn’t matter too much about the draw in the quarters.

    • That is true, but I’m not sure you really could recover from a loss to Nicaragua and win the gold cup. Nicaragua is 0-1-13 all-time and is 2-2-9 in 2017.

    • Whether it is or not, these guys have to play like it is a must win, with more passion and desire. I agree we will go through anyway, but if the team wants to grow into this tournament, it has to start today.

  6. I’m thinking that Bruce goes with something like this to ensure the win, but then can make changes around the 60th minute in the event we have at least a 2 goal lead:


    Bruce may choose to go with Dwyer solo up top, which means he would likely drop Morris for Corona or Bedoya. This would make sense based on our lack of midfield control the past 2 games, but the game against Panama had the 3 CM’s, so not sure if it works with that personnel or perhaps it was just a one off. I am hoping for the latter assuming the 3 CM system is implemented against Nicaragua.

  7. I tend to agree with Gary, regarding the attack, especially considering what should be inferior talent.

    Unfortunately, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that Costa doesn’t have the energy to go and given the midfield performances I’ve seen thus far, I’m inclined to agree that Dax may be the most suited for this formation – even if I don’t think he’s international caliber still.

    On a side note: With Bruce making a point to note the talent has improved within CONCACAF across the board (Yes, things have evolved in the past 10 years, Bruce…) and Gonzalez saying they need to play harder/be harder to beat – I’m wondering if things are being played far too cautiously from the top down – given the competition.

    I don’t care what designation we deem this 23 to be, whether it’s B or C, our performances have been dreadful. We can only blame the players for so long as the team looks lost, tired, and uninspired. If not for Dwyer’s presence, I struggle to find sincere motivation to watch this collection of players.

    • The problem is this USA team appears to be a combination of B (second-choice) and C (third-choice) players. There are a handful I would not even assess that high; Matt Hedges has been disappointing and will probably fall to a D (fourth choice or lower behind his own teammate, the injured Walker Zimmerman) based on his performance to date. Arriola had a chance to show his stuff and showed his nerves instead; he may have played his way off the team. Based on what we’ve seen, Chris Pontius is not International-level and would not rate even a third-choice designation.

      We still need wingers and that leaves the door wide open if only Kenny Saief, Julian Green, Joe Gyau, or the injured Sebastian Lletget can grab it. Like him or hate him Gyasi Zardes probably brings enough to be on the plane.

      As usual the biggest lack is central midfield players who can pull the strings and compose. They just aren’t there and it makes everything look clunky.

  8. They should play two strikers. I just don’t understand this strategy. Bruce almost always played with 2 strikers at the Galaxy. The midfielders are not known as scorers. Their best bet to win the group is to run up the score. Give Agudelo another chance.

  9. I know it’s a must win for a favorable draw in the knockout round, but why not start Hamid? Guzan is a known quantity, serviceable as a backup, but good for one gaffe a game you hope doesn’t result in a goal. He hasn’t been the same the last 2 years.

  10. It’s says Dax redeemed himself coming on late against Martinique, he came on in the 86th min. 4 mins plus stoppage time is enough to redeem yourself?


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