The U.S. Men’s National Team will play four matches in the next two weeks, in a whirlwind schedule meant to simulate the congested World Cup qualifying schedule that awaits in the fall.
Does that mean Gregg Berhalter is about to trot out a full-strength lineup over and over again? Obviously not, and the understanding that a congested schedule means leaning on squad depth will turn the upcoming schedule into a perfect opportunity to take a closer look at a broader pool of players to see where players stand head of qualifying in September.
It might seem wasteful not to play the strongest possible lineup against a team as solid as Switzerland on Sunday, but with a trophy to play for next week in Denver, and two games in four days, with a potential final against Mexico, it’s a safe bet Berhalter will want his best XI locked and loaded for the matches in Denver. Christian Pulisic and Zack Steffen are busy with the UEFA Champions League final anyway, so it isn’t as if the USMNT could deploy its strongest possible lineup anyway.
The good news for USMNT fans is that this squad has arguably more depth than ever before, and a projected second-choice lineup would still be formidable, with several in-form players, and a squad loaded with players coming off good seasons.
There are also some Nations League lineup decisions that could be finalized after the Switzerland match, leading with the defensive midfield role, which could be up for grabs if Tyler Adams can’t recover from his recent back injury.
Sunday’s friendly is also another piece to the puzzle as Berhalter works on his overall depth chart, which is sure to be tested in the months to come, with the Gold Cup in July and World Cup qualifying in the fall.
So what will the USMNT lineup for Thursday’s friendly look like? Here’s the lineup we could see take the field, and why:
Projected USMNT XI vs. Switzerland
With Zack Steffen at the UEFA Champions League final, Ethan Horvath gets a chance to play a full 90 minutes.
DeAndre Yedlin, Mark McKenzie, Tim Ream, Antonee Robinson
Having already lost one projected starter to injury recently (Aaron Long), you shouldn’t be seeing John Brooks anywhere near this game. Sergiño Dest and Reggie Cannon are the first-choice fullbacks for the moment, so they too should be left out.
That creates an opportunity for Yedlin to show what he can do in Berhalter’s system, and a chance for Robinson to show he has the technical chops to be better on the ball than he has shown in previous national team call-ups.
In central defense, Mark McKenzie will look to impress Berhalter enough to consider moving him ahead of Matt Miazga on the depth chart, while Ream handles the left-footed centerback role.
Sebastian Lletget, Kellyn Acosta, Jackson Yueill
If there are any players who will start against Switzerland that will also start against Honduras in the Nations League semifinals, there’s a good chance they will come from this group.
Lletget is the leading candidate to step into the lineup against Honduras if Christian Pulisic isn’t able to start, while Acosta and Yueill are vying for the starting role in defensive midfield if Tyler Adams is unable to recover from the back injury that sidelined him at the end of the Bundesliga season.
Something else to consider is whether Yunus Musah is match fit enough to be counted on to start in the Nations League. Musah played just 19 total minutes in the past month for Valencia, so the Switzerland friendly could be a good opportunity to get him a start and see if he will be good to go in Denver. If his sharpness isn’t there, then Lletget could be in line to start in central midfield with Weston McKennie against Honduras, and potentially Mexico.
Berhalter isn’t one to play two defensive midfielders, so you can expect Acosta to play in a more advanced role if he and Yueill are both in the lineup. It still feels like we could see Acosta and Yueill be the exception that winds up splitting Nations League matches if Adams can’t go, but if Adams is actually healthy and ready to rock, then it would make even more sense to give Yueill and Acosta both a start against the Swiss to see which of them will get the call when a defensive midfielder is needed.
Will we get to see Julian Green? That’s a safe bet, and you could certainly make an argument for him starting and allowing Acosta to be rested for the Nations League. As much as he should be a candidate to start, this is also his first camp under Berhalter so it might be early to through him into a lineup.
Jordan Siebatcheu, Brenden Aaronson, Tim Weah
Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent and Gio Reyna are expected to be the front three in Nations League, leaving the Switzerland match for this trio to make their cases to see minutes off the bench in the tournament, and potentially start if someone isn’t available.
Siebatcheu has beaten out Daryl Dike for the number two striker spot on the Nations League roster, and having a chance to start in the country where he plays professionally is a nice touch.
Few players have their stock rising faster than Aaronson, who is coming off an outstanding first season with Red Bull Salzburg. An attacking midfielder more used to playing in a central role during his days with the Philadelphia Union, Aaronson has really blossomed in a wing role for Salzburg, and also in recent appearances for the USMNT.
Weah is coming off a bounce-back year, playing 37 matches in all competitions for the newly-crowned French champion Lille. He has the talent to be a starter, and if he can show well enough in the current camp and Switzerland friendly, you have to wonder if Berhalter might consider shifting Reyna into a central role.
What do you think of this projected lineup? Who are you most excited to see play? Who isn’t in our projected that you would have made a starter?
Share your thoughts below.