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Who Should the USMNT start vs. Panama?


After a year of waiting, a year of continued disappointment that saw a FIFA World Cup come and go without the United States taking part of it, the road to redemption for the U.S. Men’s National Team has finally arrived.

New head coach Gregg Berhalter’s first appearance on the touchlines for the USMNT starts this weekend when they take on Panama in a friendly on Sunday in Glendale, Arizona in the first of two friendlies to conclude the team’s January camp.

While this is just the first friendly of the new calendar year as the program starts to prepare for this summer Gold Cup, Berhalter will want a positive result to kick off his tenure on a good note, and to show USMNT fans that progress is being made.

Here is how the USMNT could line up against Panama:


Cannon  — Zimmerman —  Long  —  Lima

Bradley  — Trapp

Arriola —  Roldan  —  Lletget


This Starting XI won’t be anywhere close to the one we’ll see this summer at the Gold Cup, but coming off of a January camp with a roster full of MLS players, it doesn’t hurt to see what you got and certainly Berhalter will have various combinations and rotations for his first two international friendlies.

Starting in the net, barring any injury or sudden come up by anyone else, Zack Steffen should be the starting goalkeeper for the national team going forward. He earned his spot internationally last year under interim head coach Dave Sarachan’s guidance and has earned the opportunity to prove that he is the right call as the No. 1 keeper for the country.

In the backline, Nick Lima is definitely one to watch. He’s shown he can create and defend with a less-than-average Earthquakes side in his first two seasons out of Cal and he continues to get better. He is also capable of playing at left back, where Daniel Lovitz is the only natural option remaining after Greg Garza’s departure from camp with an injury.

Aaron Long is coming off an MLS Defender of the Year season and should anchor the central defense, with Walker Zimmerman slotting in next to him. Youngsters Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie have shown well in camp, but it may be a bit early to give them starting nods.

In the midfield, Michael Bradley is a good bet to start and provide experience in the middle, though there are a variety of combinations Berhalter could turn to if he deploys two defensive midfielders, and Russell Canouse could be the option.

Wil Trapp has pulled the strings in the midfield for Berhalter in Columbus and it’s a safe bet Berhalter’s first match as USMNT coach will feature Trapp in the heart of the midfield. A Trapp-Bradley combination would be able to dominate possession against Panama, and allow the attacking four up front to focus on creating chances.

The current squad lacks true wing options, but Arriola qualifies as one and should get the nod on the right. Sebastian Lletget’s versatility make him a good fit anywhere across the attacking midfield three, but for this match deploying him on the left makes sense. Roldan isn’t a pure playmaker, but he has adapted to Berhalter’s system well and can handle the responsibilities of the role in the middle.

Gyasi Zardes should get the nod up top, as his familiarity with Berhalter’s system gives him the edge over the other forwards in camp.

What do you think of this lineup? Who would you like to see start against Panama? Share your thoughts below.


  1. In the aim of trying something different we adapt a formation that can take a pounding. Example, Fulham is in the relegation zone but were able to hold their own with no major talent on their team with the likes of Tottenham, Chelsea and Man City (wave after wave of attacks). They played in a 5-4-1 disguised like a 3-4-3 with the midfielder (LM/RM) helping on defense and the wingers (RCF/LCF) helping in the midfield, making it difficult to break them down (Even with REAM playing LB and lack of speed on the team). It also gave them “something” on offense and had several chances in front of goal. Roldan is a beast in midfield and Aaron Long is currently a RIGHT FOOTED CB but use to play as a midfielder while playing for Sounders II, so with our player pool in camp

    Daniel Lovitz

    Mark McKenzie – CB, LB (LEFT FOOTED)
    Auston Trusty – CB (LEFT FOOTED)

    Aaron Long (RIGHT FOOTED, midfield experience)
    Walker Zimmerman (RIGHT FOOTED)

    Reggie Cannon
    Nick Lima
    Keegan Rosenberry

    Paul Arriola (RIGHT FOOTED)
    Jonathan Lewis

    Corey Baird (CF)

    Russell Canouse (DM)
    Marky Delgado (RM,LM)
    Sebastian Lletget (LM)
    Djordje Mihailovic
    Cristian Roldan (DM, RM)

    Jeremy Ebobisse
    Christian Ramirez
    Gyasi Zardes (RW, LW)

    FORMATION 3-4-3




    I know this leaves the best players in the eyes of many off the field like Cannon and Trapp on the bench, and Berhalter religiously plays 4-2-3-1 but it’s something different as if we do not switch it up (especially with the players we have) it’s going to be same ol’ same ol’……

    • Berhalter did use a 3 CB formation for awhile with the Crew, but they didn’t have a lot of CB depth at the time so they got out of it. What’s with shade thrown at Cannon? I’d shift Lletget central and maybe put Lima in for Delgado to give a little more defensive cover, but your lineup is pretty good.

  2. There really isn’t much to work with in this camp. That said if I were making the game day selections I’d go with something along the following:


    Subs: Ebobisse, Mihailovic, Delgado/Roldan, Trusty, McKenzie,

    Zardes gets the start simply because he’s the only striker, and he’s familiar with Berhalter’s system & style.

    I don’t think Trapp is equal to the international game. He may see the field due to his familiarity with Berhalter and his system/style, but in the long run he’s not worth including.

    I think that Bradley will show that he’s finally done. Keep him around as a lockerroom guy or as a injury relief player, but he should never see more than 15 minutes of game time.

    For the second game switch things up a bit….give a different keeper a run-out (don’t care which), Use Ramirez or Baird as your bench striker (don’t care which). Otherwise keep the rest of the team & subs the same.

  3. So I’ve been critical of others today so its only fair that I give it a go

    I could see Berhalter playing Bradley in the spot I have Delgado or the Artur spot which is more 8 than 6, but I don’t like that. Not sure about Lima vs Lovitz haven’t really seen much of either. Six subs (Ebobisse>Zardes, Mihailovic>Lletget, Arriola>Roldan, Baird>Acosta, Bradley>Delgado, Rosenberry>Cannon)

    • In regards to LB I had the same problem seeing as there isn’t a natural LB on the roster after Garza was injured. Had to look up Lima and Lovitz to see where they normally play and local articles mention them at RB. Lima seems to have more upside so flip a coin really.

  4. I’m reading between the lines here but I get the feeling no of us are really that enthused about this group to want do our standard line up arguing you know put you guys in and add the dashes and what formations and all like we used to on here. I know its January and who cares is what I said earlier but it just feels like we really don’t care this time?

    So for old times sake given current roster and putting an emphasis on younger players which is the purpose of a January camp after all here’s mine in 4-2-3-1 with asteriks for players who I just want to see get starting minutes and baptized by fire because thats what this camp is for giving minutes to young lesser capped players and trying to find a diamond in the rough:






    Oh let the old times fun begin….

    • I think probably switch Lletget and Baird if both start, I would guess since this is the start of the Berhalter “Era” that it might be a little more experience based for game, than camps in the past. Berhalter has said he wants to develop a culture of winning so I don’t see him going quite so inexperienced. Although I hope he plays the guys that have done with the best in camp.

  5. Bradley and Trapp in Midfield, two DM’s with no “make-up” speed, ball control, tenacity or desire to go forward. I guess it could have been worst….with Altidore on the field ?. This is going to be really interesting ?

    • To be fair… Bradley does have good ball control. Trapp is pretty decent as well in that department and is definitely faster and with a higher work rate that MB90 at this point in their careers. Between Trapp, Canouse, Acosta and Rolden, there really is no need for the Philosopher Jogger.

      • Wrong, Bradley still has plenty to offer and at least he can show for teammates who are in trouble. None of the others have shown the ability to be open at the time a teammate needs an option to make a safe pass. That unique trait is a reason JK picked him as the primary DM and the reason BB did so before and BA after. That and that simply made the US more effective as team with MB than without him.

        Do I wish a younger player will step up and take that role? Yes, emphatically! In fact I think the US needs many more than one player who does that. So far, of all the USMNT players I’ve seen, only Sargent, Adams and maybe McKinnie look like they have the soccer brain to help teammates with any consistency.

        If you watch Spain you will see that whenever a Spanish player has the ball, he has multiple options available since nearly all those players are a-tuned to the need to be available to teammates.

  6. If at home vs. Panama, we start both Will Trapp AND Michael Bradley (an excellent jogger)… it will be a sad day. My stock in Berhalter will drop like a rock.

    • “A Trapp-Bradley combination would be able to dominate possession against Panama” Weisinger- seriously? We will dominate at passing the ball back to our defenders and probably huffing long balls from them if they’re pressured. Playing two, deep lying, holding midfielders would not unlock “creative chances”

      • Bradley would need to rotate back to his old #8 role for the two to work together. I don’t know if he’s in condition to do that. My guess is one starts Panama and the other Costa Rica, but perhaps the offseason has allowed Bradley to rejuvenate.

  7. This is the first squad we’ve seen GB put together that isn’t defined by the resources of the Crew. Before we attack his choices, let’s see what they are and how they play out. (BTW, the listed lineup is not GB’s, it is Jeff Weisinger’s).

    The question should be who would you start, and/or the title should be: “Here is who I think will start.”

    • My concern is you can say possession all you want but where are the possession players. Klinsmann briefly tried then abandoned having us knock the ball around. But when he did that we brought in Gringo Torres and Kljestan and Davis and other finesse players who could pass. I am looking at a heavily DM call sheet of people who couldn’t string passes in previous games and the options to attack are few and in some cases uncapped and a stretch to even be there. More pointedly, a lot of this central midfield looks very familiar from a team not winning much recently. We will get a better idea from March going forward but other than back this doesn’t feel like the break with Sarachan I expected or even like a unit picked to execute the system he sold.

      • It’s a good thing France, Brazil, England, Ireland, Italy, and Colombia are not in CONCACAF I guess. I think I said this to Joe, JK wanted to play possession but couldn’t really seem to articulate that other than “go express yourself”. Well, when I guys couldn’t express themselves it devolved back to what they knew a 4-4-2 diamond.

      • While GB is not limited by the Crew’s s[pending, he is limited by the players available and for the next 2 games that means (mostly) none of the European based players can be included.

        And of course, you are right, saying possession and actually doing it are two different things. Until the US has more players with both the skill and athleticism required at the international level, there will continue to be a disconnect between what people want and what they can reasonably expect. That is something no coach can have an immediate impact upon, it is now and likely always will be a process of pushing things along. Bradley, at least understood that, JK seemed oblivious to it and as a result there was a bog disconnect between what JK said and what his team did.

  8. Who cares its January camp. Can a few of the younger lesser capped players contribute? After that…

    Only things I’ll be looking for are style and tactics. Do we attempt to play out of the back? Do we attempt to play thru the midfield with linking passes and triangles on the ground? How are our MFs and CBs handling pressure? What is the percentage of back passing when they get pressured? Are they attempting to move the ball forward and linking with a close by teammate with a pass on the ground to relieve pressure or worse are we kicking long searching balls cross field with prayers that they connect with a teammate? Can we string more than 3 passes together UNDER PRESSURE? How many legit chances on goal are we creating and how are we creating those chances and by who? Are we sustaining attack in their final third and putting attacking pressure on their box for long stretches of time? How quickly do we transition and put pressure on them when we turnover the ball? Can we stay organized defensively while applying pressure defensively or do we just run around like headless chickens? How organized is our back line? I expect GB at a bare minimum get the back line organized.

    Its January though, not the full squad and won’t have the full squad’s abilities to really see how we want to play either probably so not sure how much we can really take away from these games but if the ‘system’ is as good as some of the MLS apologists say it is we should still dominate possession and create long attacking stretches in the final third since they are bringing their B/C teams and we are at home all while having a very organized back line and putting defensive pressure on them when the ball turnsover.

      • Didn’t mean to trigger you with the comment but all I’ve heard is how great a ‘system’ he runs with Columbus and I’m eager to see what translates to the international game. His lack of managerial experience and success against higher level competition along with the suspect search process and hiring have me very skeptical, but I’m eager to see the ‘system’ at work and will judge for myself. This is not really possible to lay judgement on what I see until after the March friendlies where the entire pool is available for selection barring injuries.

        You’re an MLS apologist if you keep thinking there weren’t any better options at manager available to hire. GB resume is light on experience and high level competitive success as a manager but is very high on connections within MLS and USSF so you do the math on how he got the job.

      • Because you know a guy who has spent 17 of the 24 years of his adult life in Europe obviously only knows what he learned in MLS.

      • Johnny, read that part “as a manager” and Swedish second division collapses don’t really bode well. I want to be wrong again on this one buddy but you know how that went last time.

      • implicit in his comments is doubt in the efficacy of the system, no? i mean, i have my own doubts about a possession system for a team that won the possession battle in 1 game since Portugal. I think maybe that might change if he literally called different people but as discussed below, wow, he called a ton of DMs and very few attacking players. possession usually implies the opposite. if i call up a ton of DMs the game plan is usually to concede possession, run the wrecking ball constantly, and counter when the chances are there. the pool and this roster would even support that but that’s not what he said we will do. so a tension there a bit.

        i will see how it works in practice but skepticism is justified.

      • Good points IV. Yes I’m skeptical he can implement a possession attacking style he and the rest of the media are fawning over him about. Had his club won a SS or MLS Cup or highest GD(Columbus were -2 last year in GD btw) in the league or something like that I’d have more hope.

        I hadn’t thought about all the DMs in this selection but you have a point there about the implied tactics and philosophy with so many deep sitting MFs being called in. It is January though too so we can’t really judge things till March or even his GC roster. I am eager and willing to give him a chance but you’re right on that I’m very skeptical of this narrative that Columbus was an attacking possession based club and GB will bring that style to the NT. Show me.

      • Joe- I think we were both posting at the same time so I didn’t see your 2nd post until I had posted so I didn’t realize you were only considering his managerial time as experience.
        Hammarby Collapse?
        2012 13 wins 10 draws 8 losses 4th place
        2013 5 wins 6 draws 4 losses 8th place at the midpoint (that’s pretty in line with their previous years pts per game so they couldn’t have been much out of 4th)
        The club finished 11th the in 2011 and completely restructured their team including their development system before Berhalter arrived.
        As for the competition, Panama’s domestic league doesn’t start until February, but Costa Rica has had 3 match days so they should be a little sharper than the US players coming straight out of training. The US should win both, but these January friendlies are always ugly.
        I think you are looking at it in the wrong way. There probably were guys with better resumes that were interested in the job, but that doesn’t mean they were better candidates. People always try to link him to Arena, but he is about as far from Arena as you can get in what he does. His style of play is similar to what Klinsmann called for but was unable to implement because his idea of how to implement it was to say this is what I want go figured it out. Berhalter knows what he wants and communicates it effectively to his players and adjusts that plan when things are not working. He watches more film than anyone and uses analytics, he is a true modern manager. Giovinco made more money than the entire Crew team in 2017 Berhalter never had the resources to compete at Columbus. I do think it would have been better for Greg to pass this time and go to Galaxy where given those resources he would have won at least one MLS Cup. Then come to the USMNT next cycle with Pulisic, McKennie, Weah, Sargent, and the U20 core in their primes.
        I’m no MLS apologist, it has been largely terrible in developing US players between the ages of 18-22. It is no were near the talent level of even mid-level European leagues and is still a step below Liga Mx, sorry QWAUS. It is still entertaining and the quality of play has improved. It is no longer a kick and chase league. Berhalter was a captain for two clubs in Germany and spent time the Netherlands and England, so to think he only has contacts in MLS and USSF soccer is to ignore reality.

      • I hear ya Johnny. I’m skeptical as always concerning the NT but I’ve said from the start I need to SEE IT first, and I repeated over and over again MLS doesn’t correlate well with international play. I said earlier last year before they announced him that I’d be watching the first two windows this one and March to gauge his tactics and style and also player selections, which was the gist of my original post. I don’t expect him to do things exactly as I would like but i do expect us as a NT to stop ignoring talented players who play at higher levels than MLS, that comment goes against BA and JK btw. I also need to SEE this style with my own eyes being played by our NT before I can believe the narrative being sold. As an ATL fan I watch a fair amount of MLS games but if its Colorado v RSL or Orlando v NE I’m not watching that shi0show. I have gone back and reviewed some stats on Columbus under GB time as manager and his teams do generally finish in the top 5-10 in shots taken and generally top 5 in corners taken which indicates a solid attack. GD is not great for the number of GS though, I would have though they’d be better on GD but that also implies more of an attack focus and vulnerability on the counter. However, this is MLS and a lower level a competition and its not like Columbus were some revelation to the league like my ATL have been, all be it big difference in investment. I’m giving him a chance but my leash is very short and I’m absolutely furious about the way the non existent search process was conducted and the fact that they could have installed GB Dec of 2017 or latest Apr of 2018 but the first decision made was to put the interests of MLS and Crew above the NT once again.

    • Lots of good points. Thanks for the post. One thing I was going to post I will just put here. My philosophy is that when you are playing at home against a team that is inferior, or even close to equal, you should play 2 real strikers up top, at least, and be on attack mode unless and until you have a 2 goal lead with less than 20 minutes to go or a bigger lead than that after half time.

      • Thanks Gary, I agree that we should be attacking and controlling possession and dictating the game to them in these two home games. Total shots, shots on goal, and corners will be telling stats at the end of the day.

      • that’s why i fielded 2 strikers i didn’t much care for, is regardless who he called, and whether i like them, that feels tactically appropriate. but the problem is if you go through the exercise the article asks, you quickly figure out, wow, not a lot of offensive mids to work with. where are the wings. where is the 10. to field an attacking formation you practically have to use every nominally “attacking” player in his call sheet. maybe he was more enthused with the DMs available for camp cupcake and feels more need to sort that spot out now, and will get to the rest later. but the more i looked at the list it’s like where is the finesse player as opposed to the hammers. particularly if you’re telling me we’re going to play keepaway and switch sides and use tempo to beat teams.

    • I think yall are forgetting how these January camp games actually flow. They are absolute snoozefests every year. They are never free flowing, entertaining games. A ton of sideways/backwards passing, no chances created and generally little attacking threat offered by the opposition.
      We are not going to learn very much at all from Berhalter except maybe a preferred formation. Most of the take-aways from this camp are behind the scenes in training over the last couple weeks. Any little nuggets you think you will get from here are taken out of context in a semi-competitive environment. We’re not really going to get a feel for Berhalter and this team until after the Gold Cup this summer.

    • Joe and IV: You guys should actually watch some games.

      Last Season
      Acosta 9CM 6 LM/RM 4 DM 1Second Striker
      Baird 21 FW 4 LM
      Roldan 19 CM 16 RM 2AM 1 DM
      Delgado 18 CM 7RM/LM 4AM 4 DM
      LLetget 9 AM 9 CM 3LM/RM
      Mihailovic 9AM 7 CM
      Arriola 14 RM 9 AM 1 CM 4 RB

      Bradley, Canouse, Trapp DMs

      • Watched every ATL match this year, one in person and bits and pieces of about 10 others if there where top teams on.

        Maybe you should be watching some more EPL, Bundesliga and Champions League to see what were up against and see what sort of talent in terms of touch, passing and off the ball movement we are supposed to be doing to create chances and defend.

        Of course I know you do watch some European games, I’m just giving it back at you for implying that I don’t watch enough MLS, which isn’t true since you don’t know what I watch until I just told you. We can both play that but its just attacking the person not the argument.

      • Actually now that I’m thinking about it. I’m pretty sure I watched more MLS matches than European matches start to finish this year if you don’t count the partial games I watch. OMG, I’m turning into an ‘MLS apologist’ somebody save me.

      • I watch a fair bit of Brazilian Serie A too. Vai Corinthians!!! Unfortunately we’re loaded with stadium debt from the WC and suck now with no money to pay for players. My family down there were pissed when we spent money to fire and hire a new manager last September rather than invest in the roster.

      • I watch the US, Dortmund, and Houston Dynamo. Watching the US suffices to criticize players with cap histories. You can rebrand defensive players as something else but they are what they are. I watched many of these mids play already for the US and few looked like they had much skill in the attack (or like they won many balls either). Even Delgado hits like 2 great passses and then otherwise disappears. So I don’t much care if they also played other positions. Lipstick on a pig. I do look forward to seeing the players like Canouse who are untried, and I am open to whatever happens.

    • I understand that Joe, I think we need to wait until the GC though to really evaluate. January is always terrible soccer no matter what because its always MLS guys straight off the couch or guys from Liga Mx or Europe that their clubs don’t rate. March will be a week with 2 matches so to implement much if its a completely or nearly completely new group is likely not to be very fluid either. GC will give Berhalter about a month to really work with the guys even if a few will not be available because of club commitments or training.

      • Fair enough, I said the same in my original post. I do plan to put more weight on March callups rather than implementation and tactics which is fair given the short window and trouble getting everyone on the same page in a short time frame. I’m even okay with waiting to GC to be completely definitively yeah or nay about him, but I think I’ll have 80% of what I need to see before that.

      • Joe- No one should be forced to watch Colorado, Orlando, or New England play anyone. Minnesota away from home is pretty hard to stomach as well. Midweek matches are pretty tough to get through too since generally, the away side plays their backups especially if its a long trip. I watched most of the Crews matches this season, and usually catch KC on my local Fox Sports channel. I also get the Fire on Comcast, but they were bad without Accam and Mihailovic missing the first half so I tried to avoid them. ESPN+ is well worth it in my opinion, wish they had more Dutch league so I could watch Nova and more Danish for Amon and Sabbi, but generally only PSV and Ajax, and Copenhagen or Bronby. Probably won’t see much of either the rest of the year either because they’ll be in the relegation round.

  9. Keeper and forward are depressing, Steffen is already proven and the rest are rubbishy. Bradley is a waste of time. He also pretty well botched the mids since he brought a zillion defensive mids but neglected to bring enough wings and attacking players to this camp. I prefer experimental at this stage, so….

    Lima Zimmerman Glad Lovitz
    Zardes Arriola Canouse Lewis
    Ramirez Ebobisse

      • Johnny,–Imperative is very definitive and decisive in his opinions, just don’t expect them to always be logically consistent.

      • Your real complaint should be with the coach. Guess you missed the part where I said the attacking mids are just largely absent. That kind of supersedes that the forward options are merely disappointing. One is like, I wish I had different choices. The other is like, I have no choice, so, wow, I need to borrow forwards I didn’t even like in the first place. Or I guess I could line up 5 DMs across the field or something and just play to 0-0.

        Zardes just a few years ago would have been understood as a wing mid so your argument is kind of fake anyway in not acknowledging that duality.

      • You have a point about not a lot of attacking mids, but Zardes even when Klinsmann was playing there was not a midfielder (144 MLS matches as a forward, 18 as a midfielder). Berhalter’s style pushes the FBs up so you don’t necessarily need true wide midfield players I think Delgado, Roldan, and Acosta will play in those midfield roles with the FBs overlapping them. Roldan played as a RM in Sounders last 15 matches and only once all season as DM. Acosta only 4 times last season and only once for Colorado. Delgado played as DM 4 times last season with three coming early when Bradley was forced to play CB. He’ll likely play a 4-2-2-2 or a 4-2-3-1. With the loss of Garza, I could see 3-5-2, but I don’t think it will start that way.

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