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A look at the USMNT’s wing options heading into October World Cup qualifiers

The old saying states that a team is only as good as its spine and, generally speaking, that is true. Especially in the international level, you’re not going anywhere without talent down the middle. You need to be able to control the center of the field from the defense all the way to the forward up top.

That said, the difference between solid and good generally comes down to wide play and the ability to stretch the field. That’s certainly true for the U.S. Men’s National Team as well. After September qualifiers exposed a relative weakness out wide, the USMNT will need to show something a bit different heading into vital matches against Panama and Trinidad & Tobago.

Starting from defense, we know an answer to at least one question: who will play at right back? After seeing Graham Zusi burned for pace several times in recent matches, DeAndre Yedlin’s speed and athleticism will be a welcome boost to the USMNT. Against athletic teams like Panama and T&T, Yedlin’s speed adds another dimension to both the defense and the attack, and that should keep the opposition honest down the right hand side.

In front of him, the U.S. has generally gone with Christian Pulisic in the right wing position, but that idea is still certainly up for debate. The Borussia Dortmund winger was suffocated against Costa Rica, rendering him relatively ineffective. Playing Pulisic centrally could maximize his influence, even if it isn’t his best position. If that’s the idea, Arena could put Paul Arriola out on the right as the D.C. United winger has shown well in recent USMNT efforts. There’s also someone like Alejandro Bedoya or even Darlington Nagbe, although the former is a better fit centrally while the latter could play either down the middle or on the left.

The left, in many ways, is the problem side. The exclusion of Fabian Johnson takes away a potential option either at left back or left midfield while Gyasi Zardes’ injury takes away another potential starter. Say what you want about Zardes, but his work rate is virtually unmatched in the USMNT pool, and that makes him an asset in certain situations. He may not be the most technical player, but he fills a need.

At left back, Arena has limited options, and it appears he’s set to go all-in with Jorge Villafana for the time being. DaMarcus Beasley showed his age against Honduras and doesn’t seem to be a viable option against teams like Panama or T&T. Villafana may not be a burner either, but he’s the USMNT’s go-to option right now.

Left wing is interesting as well. Nagbe could certainly play the role as he has with the Portland Timbers throughout the team’s run through the West, but his playmaking ability and skill on the ball could also be an asset centrally as part of a 4-4-2 if Pulisic is kept out wide. Bobby Wood could play on the left side of a 4-3-3 if need be, even if it isn’t his best spot.

Now, this could also all be shaken up by a tactical switch, one which worked very well against Honduras and Mexico. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the U.S. go with a three-at-the-back formation, especially given the wealth of centerback options. It allows Yedlin to bomb forward on the right side with a bit more freedom which could help ignite mismatches down that side. The switch to a 3-5-2 against Honduras changed the game, and it might just be the formation that best fits this USMNT.

On the left, Arena opted for Beasley back when he used the same formation against Mexico to start the summer, but it remains to be seen if he can go a full 90. Villafana has shown an ability to get into the attack at times while Arriola has played as a right wing back and is comfortable on the left, making him an option on either side as well.

Regardless of what formation or tactics Arena goes with the USMNT will face battles out wide. Panama has a talented central midfield, making it vital the U.S. stretches the game. At the Gold Cup, Panama was unconcerned by the U.S. due to a lack of speed, and it will be vital to unleash that speed and pin the Canaleros deep for large stretched. Speed will also be vital against a T&T team that will be looking to punish the U.S. on the counter.

Knowing that, the wide players, whoever they may be, will have to step up. It was an area of struggle for the USMNT last time around, but the U.S. will need to find some answers there to navigate October’s matches.


  1. Andre de yedlin es a warrior,his coach in Newscastle Rafael Benitez is very confident whit
    him,he is not easy like Graham Suzi,the best years are not in the field anymore,also Villafaña,a bench whit santos,and damarcus Beasley, was a very good player ten years
    The other “Pulisic” Weston McKennie is shining whit the Sckalke (first team) playing all the
    games 90 minutes or less,but is a new motor whit the club,Matt Miazga,is a idol in Vitesse

    Anyway i am confident thea Usa will be in Rusia,whit both victories easier than Costa Rica and Honduras

  2. 4-2-3-1 Dempsey under Jozy or Wood as a 10 and CP on the right with nagbe on the left and MB and KA as the 2 holding CMs

  3. If we do play 3 in the back it makes the exclusion of Fabian an even dumber move.
    As the article even states, Villafana not a burner, DMB…, and Arriola as a possibility at LEFT wingback..
    Gee, that’s a plethora of exciting options… I’d hate to need a sub and be able to go to Fabian… we definitely wouldn’t want that option huh Bruce..

    • Chandler Fan Boys in 3-2-1 will point out Timmeh (sic) plays RWB for Frankfurt. I would have taken him over Zusi. I’d even rather see TC playing wide midfielder than Zusi. I believe he played outside mid. against Argentina (his debut?) in 2011.

      • I’m far from a TC supporter. It’s just painfully obvious to me that Zusi is not an international fullback — not even in CONCACAF. Timmy is healthy, playing regularly, and he fills a need. I also agree he has rarely ever played well for the NATS and often downright awful. Still, Zusi is terrible and I’d rather take my chances with him as the backup RB. Also, I was a huge Beasley fan but his time has passed. He has no business being on any MNT roster unless it’s it’s an over 35 only master’s game.

  4. Just to be clear, Bobby Wood cannot play on the left of a 4-3-3, unless the middle comes so short all the time (a la Dempsey) that it leaves plenty of space for Wood to move centrally in attack. Wood doesn’t have a good first touch and doesn’t pass the ball very well. Not a good combo for an attacking wing in a true 4-3-3.

    • Bobby Wood is 100% a center forward. if they were to play in a 433 it would be Jozy out wide.

      example future lineup:

      this roster is clearly looking like a 442 with Yedlin and Villafana out wide. can’t believe Beasley is still playing professionally, let along on the national team..

      • Particularly in light of FJ being left out. With out lack of viable international quality Bfs, this boggles the mind as does anyone shocked by Zusi being burned by speedy wingers.

      • Interestingly, Altidore’s best performances, that I have ever seen are from a 4-3-3 wide position… I always wondered why people insisted on sticking him up as a 9… he is much better with the time and space that goes with being out wide.

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