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Who Should the USMNT Start vs. Portugal?

For the first time since the disastrous day in Trinidad & Tobago, the U.S. Men’s National Team is set to take the field against Portugal.

It’s certainly not the USMNT of old. Familiar faces like Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey are absent as they continue on through the MLS playoffs. This team, now focused on 2022, is built around a young core that includes newcomers in Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Josh Sargent and Cameron Carter-Vickers.

Former assistant Dave Sarachan is in charge on an interim basis, beginning with Tuesday’s match, and he’ll have a difficult task in balancing a lineup with so many moving pieces and parts. That said, here’s one possible lineup we could see on Tuesday:

Some thoughts:

Let’s get it out of the way early: we won’t be seeing the full youth movement from the opening whistle. Veterans were brought in for a reason, and that reason is to keep things calm and stable while slowly integrating new faces in. The key word there? Slowly! Many of the new faces will get their moments, and a few will get them in this game, but let’s keep things in perspective.

Now, Alejandro Bedoya is the logical captain while players like John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin and Jorge Villafana are still young enough to bridge the two generations. Look for them to get into the starting XI against a Portugal team that still has a lot of talent.

Then there’s that middle-of-the-road group of players that were very much on the cusp. That includes forward options like Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer. For those expecting Josh Sargent, a late cameo may be in the cards, but throwing him in from the start against the European champions is probably too big of an ask.

One young player that could join the XI, though, is Weston McKennie, especially given the players involved in the midfield. Pairing him with Williams may be a little bit defensive, which could make Kellyn Acosta a logical starter. However, against a talented Portugal group, it would make sense to weather the first half and then experiment a bit more in the second. Of all of the new faces, McKennie is the most proven, and he’s earned his chance to play legitimate minutes in this game.

As for centerback, there are certainly options alongside Brooks. Sarachan could go with Tim Ream and just ride with a veteran pair, but he could insert one of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Matt Miazga. He could even insert both if the U.S. wants to play around with a three-at-the-back system. For now, let’s assume he goes a bit more traditional, at least at the start, and maybe makes a change to see something new a bit later in the match.

Saying all of that, players like Tyler Adams and Lynden Gooch could and probably should earn time as late substitutes. It remains to be seen if Adams is viewed as a midfield option or as a right back, but the New York Red Bulls midfielder could play in either position on Tuesday afternoon.

Overall, it’s a roster with balance, and that’s the key. At least for the next year or two, the U.S. will not lean too far on the young or the old. There’s a phase out, phase in process going on, and that truly begins on Tuesday with the first friendly of what is now the 2022 cycle.


  1. It is likely that Dempsey will be called back in only for a few cameo appearances in the future. Bradley and Altidore will continue to be called because simply put no player in the US pool has been able to demonstrate at the club level that they are any better (or even equal) in those roles.
    Besler, Gonzales, Williams, Lichaj, Ream, Cameron, Sapong, Rowe and Dwyer will all be over 30 (mostly over 32) by 2022 and they like Bradley and Altidore will begin to fade from the USMNT picture, but they will not and should not be summarily dismissed, although some of them will likely retire from the USMNT as they age and find the rigors of travel and of a highly competitive sport take its toll.
    When young players step up at the club level like Brooks, Pulisic, Adams and McKiney have done they will naturally replace some of the older players. Asking boys to step up and play like men might be a nice thought, but it will result in many boys being crushed. Things take time; the maturation of a soccer player is one of those things that runs on a different time-line for every player.
    Greene, Agudelo, Gooch, Johannsson, Kitchen, Hyndman, etc. have all demonstrated the kind of uneven progress expected from young players. Their stories will not be complete without the passage of time.

  2. Would of liked to of seen even more of a youth movement. Sad thing is had we won vs Trinidad it would be more of the same so maybe this was what we needed.

  3. It’s sentiments like this that are going to hold the US back from taking advantage of this opportunity: “Let’s get it out of the way early: we won’t be seeing the full youth movement from the opening whistle. Veterans were brought in for a reason, and that reason is to keep things calm and stable while slowly integrating new faces in. The key word there? Slowly! ”

    When Germany were struggling in the early 2000’s they went to the youth movement. It took awhile for those players to learn how to play together, but the patience to stick with it was a big reason the team performed well in 2006.

    The US now has an opportunity to start building a 2022 WC squad and the players to be brought in for the NT over the next 2 years at least should only be those who have a chance to be considered for the team in 2022.

    I don’t care if they look awful against good European competition, we failed to make the WC so why does that matter. What matters is giving these young players as much experience against quality competition as possible. Using any international break with players who have no legit chance of making the team in 2022 takes that opportunity away from someone else.

  4. would love to see Sargent as lone central striker for the last 30 min. Otherwise , everything is a tossup in terms of positions, I think.

  5. Seeing Bedoya on your lineup makes me cringe. I understand your point about balance, but can we achieve balance with someone else? We’ve seen what Bedoya brings time and time again, and it’s not much. Someone else, please. Anyone else!

  6. No Altidore. No Bradley. Can’t wait. They should retire officially from national team duty or continue to be booooooooooood at every MMS game for failing to get into WC in the easiest format concacaf

  7. With all the up and coming cm’s we have(adams, Gonzalez, McKennie) and the possible resurgence of Danny Williams is it possible we resurrect the Kellyn Acosta at LB experiment? This way we get more young talent on the field.

  8. Based on the players called in I’m fine with the Back-line. I would have preferred to see someone other than Villafana, but since we don’t really have any options at LB I guess it defaults to him. I’d have liked to see Gooch get the nod over Bedoya, but I guess I can accept seeing him for this match & the January camp before we send him off for good. Don’t really care for either of the striker options…but again not many options right now.

    If I could get to see a line-up it would be something along the following….


    Subs: Acosta for Villa, Adams for Williams, Agudelo for Dwyer, CCV for Brooks,
    Sargent for Gooch/Rowe (shift Agudelo into MF), Gonzalez for Horvath

  9. It does not matter who they start. 5-0 Portugal. Well, at least no more Antigoal. US Soccer is feces. Is apu still commanding the circus? Let me know when he is out.

  10. Just for the fact that I’m going to see a midfield without Bradley, I really don’t care who we throw out there because ANYTHING WILL DO 😀 ….. I know the team is GOING TO DO WELL because of his absence, and we will look like we actually have what is known as an offense (in some capacity) during this game. I really just hope we have seen the last of “Mr. Hold up play” and “Mr. Back-pass”

    • Bizzy, OMG what will we do no more Bradley in MF. The sky is falling and our system is doomed. Bradley was the greatest MF since sliced bread and has to start and play every minute ever cause he’s the best. If you can’t realize that then you never played the game. (sarcasm)

      • Love hm or hate him, Bradley provided the essential service of being always available as a safe outlet when a teammate came under pressure. That is the reason he touched the ball so often and that he often got the ball while under some pressure.

        Of the players in this squad, it is not clear who will be that guy. Neither Williams, Bedoya nor Acosta have shone they have the anticipation to do that. I hope someone will because the US needs someone to do that (it would be, perhaps better if more than one player had the ability to anticipate when teammates would be in trouble and able to move somewhere to help. but, so far, none of these players have demonstrated that ability).

  11. 4-4-2 hasn’t worked so why stick with it, and especially with this group the forwards will be lucky to get any service at all. Throw Acosta in as another center mid and take a forward out who cares which one. Start Horvath and anyone who can tie their boots in double knots instead of Villafana. Not a big fan of bedoya either but doubt they start Rowe and Gooch so it’s a coin flip but I would rather have Gooch

    • I wouldn’t necessarily say that the formation 4-4-2 is our issue, but more so the personnel chosen to facilitate it has been off. That, and whether to press or not and whether to keep a high line or not. 4-4-2 also requires legitimate wingers and we generally deploy only one that can play with the skill required to do more than just be an outlet to the CMs. Thus, it slows the momentum of the game and generally leads to turnovers as they are not pressing forward as much and tend to hold the ball up more than anything. If the right guys are used, the 4-4-2 can be quite formidable. 4-3-3 would be ideal, I think, but we don’t really have a play maker (CAM) on the roster. Williams, Acosta, and McKennie are more adept at being DMs with passing ability (they can go forward, but that isn’t their main skillset). Bedoya is the only guy that can somewhat play that role as he did for Sochaux (pretty sure I remember him playing centrally and the furthest forward of the CMs). Assuming that is the case, it still doesn’t make me jump for joy, so we could end up moving Acosta and Mckennie slightly higher up the pitch as the connection points between Williams and the front line. I really wish Hyndman was on the roster. That would have been perfect.

      *CCV is interchangeable with Miazga for me right now, so either works for me in the starting lineup.

      Subs: Sargent, Villafana, Gonzalez, and Bedoya (depending on the lineup)




      or 4-4-2


  12. CP’s article in The Players Tribune is a must read, shows maturity beyond his age, the next Capt for the next decade

    • Just got done reading it. I vote for him as next USSF President. Definitely a must read. I get more impressed with this kid every day.

      • Yes a good read. His main point was that we do create talent here in the US but most don’t have the opportunity like he did to move to Europe at or before the critical ages of 15-17 and without a EU passport as he had have to wait till their 18 and he says the competition at the youth level is much tougher there as opposed to here where often there is often a ‘star’ player or two that a youth team focuses on, over there a supposed ‘star’ youth prospect here would just be a normal part of the youth team because of the quality up and down is more or less what he’s saying. He also laments see fellow 17-18 year olds here who get ‘rostered’ but not played by their MLS teams. He seemed to go out his way to make the point a couple times that we DO create talent here, and in a round about way is saying we are just not developing right or not getting it right at the right age windows that are most critical.

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