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What is the USMNT first-choice XI right now?

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Imagine for a moment of Concacaf decided it had to start World Cup qualifying immediately, in order to get matches in ahead of a worsening pandemic. What starting lineup would Gregg Berhalter use in all-important qualifiers right now?

It might seem like a useless exercise considering the next scheduled qualifiers aren’t until June, but with November’s friendlies in the books, it is a good time to take stock of the USMNT player pool, and which players would get the call if there were meaningful games in the immediate future.

For the purposes of this exercise we will leave out Yunus Musah, who is not currently cap-tied, and we still don’t know for certain whether Musah will commit to the USMNT. If he were committed and/or cap-tied already, then Musah would have to be considered for a starting role.

Jozy Altidore’s long-term injury has kept him out of action enough time to rule him out of consideration to start, but it should be noted that if he can find a way to stay healthy in 2021, then he will still be a leading candidate to start as Gregg Berhalter’s preferred striker. His hold-up play is still unmatched among American strikers, but his inability to stay healthy, coupled with the continued improvement of a generation of young strikers, means the clock is ticking for Altidore’s continued standing as the top striker option.

Christian Pulisic will be factored in, even though he has missed a few weeks with a hamstring injury. He is on the verge of returning to action, and it’s a good bet that he would have played in the November matches had they been qualifiers.

So who would Berhalter call on to start in an important match right now if he needed a starting XI? Here is the lineup we could see him turning to:

USMNT first-choice XI

Goalkeeper

Zack Steffen is the pick, and it’s not really close right now. If he spends 2021 not getting any games, then things might change, but as long as he keeps getting cup matches for Manchester City he should see enough action to keep him ready.


Defenders

The biggest question is whether you play Sergino Dest at right back or left back, and while right back is his natural position he is also the best left back option there is, and Berhalter prefers a Dest-Reggie Cannon combo to any current fullback combination available. Could that change? Perhaps, but right now it’s Dest-Cannon.

Antonee Robinson struggled against Wales, but if he continues to play well for Fulham then he will continue to be in the conversation, pushing to make the left back position his own, which would push Dest to right back. There are some intriguing left back prospects in the pipeline, but it’s tough to see any of them being ready to challenge for a starting role by next summer.

At centerback, the spot next to John Brooks is wide open, with Aaron Long, Walker Zimmerman,  Matt Miazga and Mark McKenzie among those in contention. Zimmerman is in the midst of an MLS Defender of the Year season, so he could just as easily get the nod here, but Brooks and Long have a good connection as partners, and while Long struggled in the first half of the current MLS season, he looked sharper down the stretch of the regular season. He has a speed advantage over both Zimmerman and Miazga, which matters playing next to Brooks, who isn’t the fastest defender.

Plenty could change in the time before next summer’s qualifiers though, especially with younger options like McKenzie and Chris Richards.


Midfielders

Photo by John Dorton / ISI Photos

Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie are locks, leaving one other spot. Gio Reyna would win a fan vote for the role, but right now Christian Pulisic makes more sense as a player capable of handling the two-way work required of the position. The good thing about Pulisic and Reyna is that they would have no problem interchanging roles during a match.


Forwards

Photo by John Dorton / ISI Photos

Josh Sargent is continuing to evolve as a striker, and the steady playing time for Werder Bremen is only serving to sharpen his game, and his hold-up play in particular, which will only help him be more effective in Berhalter’s system.

Nicholas Gioacchini and Sebastian Soto are both very interesting prospects, as are Daryl Dike, Ayo Akinola and Jeremy Ebobisse, but Sargent gets the nod, while Gyasi Zardes is someone who Berhalter is sure to bring into the fold.

The wings are a bit more wide open, with Reyna and Pulisic top options. Jordan Morris is having an outstanding season for the Seattle Sounders, and looked very sharp on the wing for the USMNT a year ago in Nations League. Morris’ ability to switch flanks, and his ever-improving ability to combine with teammates makes him a very good candidate to start.

In terms of some other young options, Tim Weah needs consistent playing time to push his way into the picture, as do Konrad De La Fuente and Ulysses Llanez.


What do you think of this starting lineup? Who would you start if there were a qualifier later this month?

Share your thoughts below.

Comments

  1. If WC started today, 4-3-3 formation.
    LW- CP, CF/9- Morris, RW- Nico
    10-Reyna, 8-McKennie, 6-Adams
    LB-Dest, CBs- Brooks, EPB, RB- Cannon
    GK- Steffen
    Subs- CBs- Miazga, Long, LB- Robinson, RB- Moore, 10-Green, 8-Holmes, 6-Yueill, GKs- Hamid, Horvath, CF/9- Soto, LW- Weah, RW-Ledezma

    Reply
    • Rather, have Ledezma as a 10. For this exercise, I went with experienced Green. Morris would best fit as a 9 with this group. CP, Morris & Nico interchangeability (spell check goin crazy), would be something to see. If Alvarado is healthy, he’s my back up LCB, not Miazga, (Recent bias – I just haven’t seen Alvarado/St Luis play, so far). The US player pool looks to be trending away from MLS, which I think is a double edge sword. No MLS preference but you have a narrow chance to make a WC roster. ‘26 WC roster might not have any MLS players.

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      • While I too liked Alvarado a few years ago, and he still seems more mature and level-headed than Miazga, he has kept being transferred to smaller clubs in the Mexican league, of which San Luis is only the latest and I would imagine smallest. Although he has captained teams, one steady captain can’t do much or get much good playing time if he doesn’t have at least a decent midfield and back line. I suspect that for him to make it back into the USMNT, it would need to be a situation where they explicitly wanted to spare European players the travel and the injury risks of Concacaf, or where they already had a lot of players out due to injury or Covid.
        .
        How he would stack up against Long, Zimmermann, and Miazga, I don’t know. It would be good if the coaches could see them in a US-based camp and compare. But it would also be good if they could just pick one and give him some time to play next to Brooks.
        .

    • If you play Reyna as a 10 you’re playing with essentially 4 forwards. When he plays the 10 role for BvB he’s the third forward that pressures the backline he doesn’t have to go win back the ball. Given McKennie’s lack of positional awareness that would Adams all alone at times in midfield.I know Nico has played wing for his club but he seems to be more a poacher than a guy who can run at you and get off a cross.

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      • I think, Gio can handle the defensive responsibility of a CM. His father was never known as a defensive player. Captain America was 5’6” and played like a giant for the US. Bellingham, Witsel, Delaney, Reus, Mousoko on your roster, you would have Gio on the wings too. I read your post about the garbage time goals and assist from Soto & Ledezma. I couldn’t disagree more!! Those two have synergy!! Remember, ‘19 U20 WC? Servania got the ball, passed it to Ledezma. Richie dribbled 40 yards, and slipped a beautiful thru ball to Soto, who ran and struck it, effortlessly, for the 3rd goal and equalizer in the run of play. That wasn’t coincidence or luck. Their connection in Soto’s 1st start wasn’t because Panama was slacking on d. Ledezma & Reyna both need to play centrally attacking middle rotating the 10 spot. When 1 is in the middle, the other is on the wing.

    • Don’t get me wrong, I was purely responding to why Richie wasn’t getting a lot of accolades after the Panama match. I think Richie and Soto both have a good chance of being important players going forward.
      —————————
      I don’t really think you can assume Reyna could play a certain way based on how his father played. I don’t think Sebastian Berhalter would be a very good CB.

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  2. Just a couple of points. People who discount Morris are making a mistake. He is just as quick as about anyone else we have and don’t discount his abilities. When he runs at a defender one on one, he is very difficult to stop, similar to Donovan. Also, while he is MLS, he is one of the best in the league. Remember when the knock on him was he couldn’t use his left foot? Well, that isn’t true anymore. Second, I’m a Lletget fan and he showed his worth in the second game when he was playing a more natural position. Still, if Musah isn’t available and you want to put Reyna on the wing, I would choose Green over Lletget for the midfield. From what I have seen of Green, I think he is better technically than Lletget. I’d like to see the two of them go head to head in a camp, though.

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  3. ledesma or de la fuente on the right in place of morris they are playing in europe at a higher level than mls and they are much more technically gifted. Morris represents the old USMNT mostly physical less technical and most of these group of young players have already shown that they could play a technical possession oriented european style of play at their clubs and at the U20 level. The transformation is taking place but we still need a better coach.

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    • They are on the bench in higher level leagues but Konrad is not playing, he actually plays in the Spanish 3rd division. Nothing that he showed against Wales says he’s ready to replace Morris. Ledezma is closer but is really playing in Dutch 2 which isn’t clearly above MLS certainly doesn’t have the top talent. If Richie gets more time with PSVs first team sure. Morris is a placeholder but someone has to take that place.

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  4. Like most have already commented on…Pulisic is a winger and should be played there. If you want an 8 to pare with McKennie than use either Lletget, Green, or Holmes. My personal choice would be Green or Holmes.
    For those who feel Morris is too good to be a bench option…maybe use him as a CF until Sargent proves he can be that goal scoring option. As it currently stands Morris’s time as a Winger is numbered. Weah, Uli, & Konrad are closing the gap quickly.
    Lastly I don’t understand why Long continues to get a pass for his poor form over the last year or more. I prefer Maizga…but if he’s not to Gregg’s taste I’d go with Alvarado, EPB, or CCV. For my money all are better options than Long at this point.

    Reply
      • Yes, wasn’t a good game, but still better than Long.
        1st goal against us both CB’s were at fault. Miazga was too far to the outside, but Ream saw the goal scorer and didn’t challenge him. Cannon also a little at fault for giving too much space to allow the cross. Team defensive error, and not uncommon considering it’s been a year or more that those 3 have played together.
        I don’t remember the 2nd goal against us clearly enough to argue.

        Miazga still gets drawn into too many needless penalties/fouls but he’s not done maturing and I don’t mind CB’s being physical. If the desire is to pass out of the back Miazga is miles ahead of Long.

      • How about the angle Miazga took against Wales where his mind and first few strides thought he could win a wide ball. However,, his legs could not do what his mind thought! Miazga had to quickly adjust and foul the player who was about to go from sideline to open space on goal. That one individual decision creates a high percentage goal scoring scenario every time.
        Miazga has a lot of positive physical attributes but he needs to get his mind into matches

    • On the second goal Miazga for some reason left his mark to step towards the man with ball who had several defenders closer to him. The guy with ball just played it right to Miazga’s man who scored the goal.

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  5. fun exercise, great points above already…depends on the system, home or away, where to play CP, Dest, McKennie, etc. but I’d want someone in Musah’s role recently who plays that role normally, not someone put into that role just for this team, and CP has shown world class as a winger so play him there, then Morris or Reyna come off the bench, and Lletget gets that midfield role on the road in Central America for me. CB besides Brooks? idk, but depth everywhere but there looks better than I’ve seen in a while, including at the the 9.

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      • we played with 2 8s vs. Panama and TA behind them, pretty normal these days, sometimes it even looks like 3 6s depending on the striking talent in front of them, but GB didn’t do that

    • Sorry Beach that’s the second time this week I misunderstood your comment. As I said below I’d prefer Lletget in the 8 role and Morris as a sub.

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  6. I really think its time to retire Jozy. He’s been around a long time, is always hurt and is not as good as the youth players coming up. He’s not that fast.. not good with the ball and really not a scorer. GB really has to move on from Jozy and Bradley for that matter

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  7. Who will put the ball in the net has been the #1 question for a while now. There is no way we can move our best goal scorer further from goal. No way. Jordan Morris has done great in MLS but if berhalter wants to play 4-3-3 and sees Reyna as a winger then jMo gets benched.

    Reply
    • I think what Ives is saying is Morris is better at wing than Lletget is as an 8/10, If you take Morris off until Musah is cap tied. Personally I’d go Lletget in the middle because I want a stronger defensive midfield and bring Jsmooth off the bench.

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      • I believe that too, but we’re talking about the best team here. This team absolutely needs Pulisic’s goals. I think Ives went for most talented 11 but not necessarily the best team.

      • I’m not positive that is true, but lets say it is. The role he played as a 10 in the 4-2-3-1 is vastly different than he would play in Berhalter’s 4-3-3. His defensive responsibility especially would pull him much further away from goal. To me its crazy to place your top goal scoring threat further from goal in a team that lacks goal scorers. Pulisic is legitimately the only player in our pool that is consistently playing/scoring at the top level.

  8. Ah, the old W-M formation. Fifty years ago, we played it in college.

    I thought Ledesma should at least get a mention. He did provide two pretty good crosses for Soto to finish.

    Long is probably my choice to accompany Brooks at CB. He has good speed and when he is playing well, he is hard to pass up. Of course, like most players when he is not playing well he is not. Lately he is playing well.

    The conundrum of how to best take advantage of the talent of Pulisic, Reyna, Morris and (we hope) Musah is something GB will have to figure out. That is a much better problem than trying to choose who is the least bad, a situation recent US coaches have found themselves in too often.

    Then there are multiple young players who might popup with impressive play in the next several months for example, Aaronson, Pomykal and Caden Clark.

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    • Ledezma made those crosses after Panama basically stopped playing, I think that’s part of why he didn’t get a lot of recognition.

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  9. In the above formation, switch Pulisic and McKennie.
    Then after Musah declares for the US, he takes Morris’s spot, with Jordan becoming a bench option.
    Zimmerman plays with Brooks. Adams will compensate for their speed deficiencies.
    Yedlin off the bench for RB or RW, McKenzie off the bench for LB.
    I’d really like to see AJ play with these guys. I just think he’d bag tons of goals with the service he’d get. Just gotta stay healthy.
    Also want to see Akinola…

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  10. I think that “an important game” is a bit broad. A WC game is not the same as an important road CONCACAAF game. Playing teenagers on the road where the ref will only blow the whistle to summon an ambulance is crazy. We need to have some thugs (looking at Jordan Morris…) Beating up Pulisic already seems to be the regional defense standard

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  11. Also, Aaron Long has had two straight seasons of moderate to average play in the MLS. Miazga is playing at a higher level against a better level of competition. I think his time as a USMNT starter should be gone and passed.

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    • Miazga was partially responsible for both goals against Panama and seems ridiculously close to a red card for no apparent reason most of the time. Long’s struggles at NYRB have coincided with the collapse of their midfield, Of course that also calls into question if he was good in the first place or was just on a good team defense.

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    • Bingo. Anyone who has watched Chelsea the past two seasons knows that Pulisic is at his best as a left winger. So if you’re going to play Pulisic in center of the park–which you shouldn’t–don’t put him on right, put him on the left with Reyna, who likes to cut inside. That allows Reyna to play in a quasi-attacking midfield/quasi false 9 role just off Sargent’s shoulder and gives Pulisic the freedom to push out wide. All that being said, still don’t like Pulisic in the center of the park and in my mind, one of Reyna or Morris misses out on starting.

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    • Not only is he a winger he was one of the world’s top wingers last season but of course we move him to midfield???? WTF Ives really tries to hard to justify Berky moves if this actually happens

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    • Ives is working off the premise that Musah is not available that means you need another CM. If you read he said Reyna is not a good enough two way player. Reyna when he plays centrally for Dortmund is asked to press the backline not win balls like Musah did this week. Now that’s not what Pulisic is best at either but he’s better at it than Reyna. If Musah commits or Aaronson stars at Salzburg that frees up the necessity to move one of the Dortmund developed players inside. But Aaronson has to be better than Morris if Musah goes with England. Pomykal recovering would be another option.

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      • Pulisic is a winger. It shouldn’t matter who is where and what is there. Christian should be playing at his postion

    • Yes we all ge that but under Ives parameters playing Pulisic as a wing would insert Roldan, Lletget, or Bradley into the midfield? Would you rather see CP as a winger with Roldan or CP as a CM (where he’s actually been more productive for the NT) and no Roldan? That doesn’t seem like that difficult of a decision. If Musah joins us for NL in June none of it matters of course.

      Reply

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