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Who should the USMNT start vs. El Salvador?


The U.S. Men’s National Team will play its final match of 2020 on Wednesday night, and while the lineup that takes the field at Inter Miami CF Stadium is far from a first-choice squad, it should give Gregg Berhalter some opportunity to look at prospects talented enough to break through in 2021.

The MLS-heavy contingent consists of several new faces, and several players coming off career years, such as Mark McKenzie and Chris Mueller, who stepped up on successful teams to post some of the best seasons in the league.

Berhalter also has some dual national considerations to make when selecting starters, knowing how much experiences playing for the USMNT can factor into a player’s decision to choose to play for the United States.

Who will Berhalter start on Wednesday? Here is a lineup we could see against El Salvador:

Projected USMNT XI vs. El Salvador


Bill Hamid is the easy choice, with the younger options in the camp unlikely to get a nod this time around.


The toughest decision Berhalter has to make is in central defense, where he has three leading options for two spots. We will give the nod to Walker Zimmerman and Mark McKenzie for having had two of the best seasons in MLS in 2020, and also because both have had fewer opportunities in the past than Aaron Long. With McKenzie potentially making a transfer move this winter that would keep him from taking part in the January camp, having a look at him in a start on Wednesday makes sense.

At right back, Berhalter can go with Julian Araujo or Kyle Duncan. As much as you can argue Duncan had the better season at right back in MLS play, Araujo’s dual national status could make it enticing for Berhalter to want to give him the start to help his decision-making process.

Sam Vines gets the nod at left back over the inexperienced Marco Farfan.


Jackson Yueill is a late-arriving player but he should get the call in the defensive midfield role, while Brenden Aaronson and Sebastian Lletget are safe bets to lock into starting roles.

The only question there is whether Berhalter might deploy Aaronson or Lletget in a wide role and slot in Djorde Mihailovic in an attacking midfield role. Of course, Mihailovic could also work wide if Berhalter needs him to.


It’s tough to envision Berhalter calling in Soto from Europe to not have a look at him in a starting role, though his presence alongside intriguing striker prospects Ayo Akinola and Daryl Dike makes you wonder if we might see a two-forward setup at some point. (UPDATE- Dike will miss the match with an injury)

On the wings, Chris Mueller should get one of the starts, while Paul Arriola is a logical choice, assuming he is fully fit and capable of handling a starting role.

What do you think of this lineup? Who is missing from the projected lineup that you would start? Who are you happy to see listed?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Defenders cannot be fairly judged in a single game. (unless they are awful)I think that means that in the CB spots that means Zimmerman and McKenzie get the start, sorry Long you just struggled a bit too much this year even if there was an uptick at the end.

    LB continues to be a weak point for the USMNT. It is unfortunate that John Nelson has been behind Hollingshead at Dallas, but I still think he is the best pure defender among the young MLS guys at LB. I suspect he will have to score a few goals or register some assists going forward to get GB’s attention. Next time. At RB, there a couple options who had decent seasons in MLS, I can’t really choose among them. I suspect GB will pick the one he thinks can join in the attack.

    in any case, the chance for the fans to see some players they may not know much about will be fun, but barring a complete melt-down by one or more of them, it will not do much to settle anything going forward. Said another way, defenders are rated by how they handle talented attacks and by their ability to focus for the full 90 minutes. I don’t think ElSalvadore has the kind of attacking prowress that will test how any of the defenders will do against better competition.

    In short, it will be fun, but don’t expect to learn much.

    • i think you can play yourself off the team in these games but not “on,” at least nowhere near starting for the first choice. remember ben sweat? i don’t think that took long to sort out. there may be some negative short term implications of araujo’s second half gaffes. i do agree defense you need a body of work, because some nights it’s about matchups, or you’re not tested, and then some nights you are severely tested. to be fair i think most of the US backfield struggles to string good games together. even long has periodic nightmares. which is one reason i think we should be more aggressively trialing the position. i don’t get why offense is being so aggressively churned but defense is stasis. the 2018 cycle defense was bad. we have continued to have problems. if your theory and mine is find people who can be consistent, well, we haven’t found them yet and it’s odd we’re not looking as hard at defense as offense. it’s going to be half of what determines whether this takes off or sits still.

  2. Did anyone ever get it sorted whether Alvarez and Perea have to switch to play this game, and if they ever did? Or are they just camp bodies?

  3. Favoring experiment, personally I would like to see
    Dos Santos
    Araujo McKenzie Zimmermann Duncan
    Bassett Perea Aaronson
    Alvarez Soto Mueller

    I expect more like
    Araujo Long Zimmmerman Vines
    Lletget Yueill Aaronson
    Mihailovic Soto Arriola

    Which will stutter along until he makes subs

    Hamid has had an awful season and not played all that well on the NT — I am lost on that one

    I am underwhelmed by the CB selections, which offer little to work with at a position that needs help — or maybe dingbat thinks he has it sorted using the same people who struggled this whole cycle surrounded by better wingbacks

    I realize I have been critical of Aaronson but objectively among this bunch he would be one of the 3 more experimental and open minded choices at midfield, and it would be his chance to do more than be anonymous like last time, which is what I judge them by — impression on the field for the NT

  4. My 4-3-3 slightly different.
    LW- Akinola, 9-Soto, RW-Mueller
    10-Lleget, 8-Aaronson, 6-Yueill
    LB-Vines, CBs- Long, McKenzie, RB- Araujo
    Subs- Pineda (Yueill), Zimmerman (Long), Mihailovic (Lleget), Dike (Mueller)

  5. How does Arriola get the start? He go injured at the very start of the MLS Season and only had a cameo appearance (or two) at the end of the season for one of the worst teams in the league.
    If there isn’t someone else in the camp who can beat him out than it’s a sad statement on Gregg’s player selections.

    • Remember that what is shown in this article is the SBI guess at what Behalter will select. It’s not fair to blame GB for what someone else thinks he will do. Also, it is helpful to hear a coach’s reasoning, which Berhalter has supplied a couple of times in the past.

      • I get it’s Ives “guess” as to what Gregg will do, but if an experienced observer & writer like Ives is projecting Arriola as the starter than there is still a question surrounding Gregg’s player selection for this camp.
        Yes I realize that Morris & Zardes are both missing due to club commitments, but there has got to be someone more deserving in MLS than a player who was basically out the entire season. I even get the concept of evaluating Paul’s recovery….but that would have been better served in the January camp where he can be observed over a longer period of time.

      • What’s the big mystery? When healthy, Arriola is one of Berhalter’s preferred wing options, and if he’s healthy enough then he’ll get on the field. It’s a friendly so he’s not going to play 90 minutes, but he’s highly regarded enough by Berhalter to plug into the lineup now.

        And who are all these American MLS-based wingers Berhalter should have brought in in his place?

      • I agree with your comment and have lamented that GB for these games begins with the incumbents before letting the experiments in, protecting his prior choices and limiting what he can learn. I also think that in terms of the OP he uses “club form” more as stick than carrot. If he likes a player and they are a regular they can go to seed and he doesn’t care. If he isn’t sure about you he obsesses about first team status and what you did last month. He oddly doesn’t care what you did last week though — he favored a cooled off Nico over a red hot Soto. It’s like he picks off reports filed a few weeks ago and not last weekend. To be fair, Arriola was fairly productive at Gold Cup — more so than say Zardes — so if he was picking domestic veterans I wouldn’t complain too much among that set. My complaint is more that the “book” is already established on regular players like him and there is more to gain looking at others. I think we overrate the value of “chemistry work” when the camp isn’t some lengthy tournament exercise where they have weeks to practice together. I think in a week window it’s more educational of talent and fitness and rust.

      • To clarify, it’s the combination of reflexively favoring the incumbents and the practice this whole cycle — by Sarachan as well — of underusing subs. We have either not used the full set or brought them in at time intervals like it’s a real game, more like 70 or 80 than 45 or 60. Using the subs that way, to me, is an exercise in confirmation bias. You assume you have them picked right or that the sub can’t possibly be better, and you pass out the minutes accordingly. When you only play 10-20′ it’s hard to make a case and show him up. And yes coaches get to pick lineups and may favor their favorites, but not giving anyone 30-45′ basically means your mind is made up before the game is played, and means your choices don’t face fair competition. It then becomes very important how sharp your eye is and GB’s selections are odd.

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