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Who should the USMNT start vs. Mexico?


Gregg Berhalter wants his young U.S. Men’s National Team to face tough tests as he forges a squad capable of not only qualifying for the 2022 World Cup, but actually make a deep run in Qatar, and Sunday’s Nations League final against Mexico is exactly the kind of match Berhalter is looking for.

Now the question becomes what lineup will Berhalter use in Sunday’s final, against a seasoned and strong Mexico side that enters the match as the favorite?

Sunday’s 1-0 win against Honduras raised some questions about certain players who struggled on Thursday, and about their holds on starting roles. The three the stand out are Josh Sargent, Sebastian Lletget and Jackson Yueill.

Sargent didn’t find the net or play a role in any goals, though he put in a ton of defensive work, including clearing a potential Honduras goal off the line. Jordan Siebatcheu coming off the bench to score the winner suddenly gives Berhalter something to think about, and whether it might be time to sit Sargent.

Yueill struggled to deal with Honduras pressing him, as he was targeted much the way opponents have sought to shut down that number 6 position against the USMNT before. Berhalter wants is defensive midfielder to be able to connect the defense to the attack, while also providing incisive attacking passes, but opponents know this and seek to neutralize it and force the USMNT centerbacks to handle more of the distribution.

Lletget is a trickier one. He had a poor game against Honduras, but had been outstanding in the previous matches before that. Berhalter wound up keeping Lletget in the match for the full 90 minutes against Honduras, choosing to leave Yunus Musah on the bench. Will he take the opportunity to start a fresh Musah against Mexico, or will the prospect of starting him at altitude when he hasn’t played much in the past month lead Berhalter to look elsewhere?

With those decisions in mind, here is the starting lineup we could see the USMNT deploying against Mexico:

Projected USMNT Starting Lineup vs. Mexico


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Zack Steffen

There’s no real discussion to be had. Steffen remains the top choice in goal.


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Reggie Cannon, John Brooks, Mark McKenzie, Sergiño Dest

Berhalter went with Antonee Robinson at left back and Sergiño Dest at right back in order to better deal with Alberth Elis. On Sunday, Hirving Lozano will be the threat to try and contain, and that will require inserting Reggie Cannon at right back. Cannon started in the 2019 Gold Cup final, and is the best one-on-one defender among the American fullbacks.

As for Dest moving to left back, there was plenty made about his struggles against Switzerland, but it should be noted that he and Christian Pulisic have played well together i the past, and that partnership could cause Mexico some problems, though Luis Rodriguez is a solid defender at right back for El Tri.

As far as centerback goes, McKenzie’s outstanding showing against Honduras should earn him another start next to John Brooks. Matt Miazga does have experience against Mexico, having played against El Tri on multiple occasions, including in the 2019 Gold Cup final. He is still a candidate to start, but Berhalter will have a tough time sitting McKenzie after Thursday’s showing.


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos.

Weston McKennie, Brenden Aaronson, Tyler Adams

Will Tyler Adams play? That very big question hangs over Berhalter’s selection process, because Adams being able to start would be a huge boost to the U.S. midfield. It might seem risky to start him given he hasn’t played in the past month, but if he is fit, he should start, and Berhalter also has the comfort of knowing he has five substitutions to work with so he can always replace Adams with Kellyn Acosta if Adams proves to be unable to play.

Now, if Adams’ presence in Denver has merely been a smoke screen, and he isn’t going to see any action, then Acosta should get the nod. He plays in the Denver area with the Colorado Rapids so altitude won’t be an issue for him. In fact, Acosta started against Mexico at Estadio Azteca in a World Cup qualifier in 2017, so the stage and rivalry intensity won’t be a new experience for him.

If Berhalter wants to really press Mexico, then starting Brenden Aaronson makes all the sense in the world. Aaronson is one of the better pressers on the USA roster, and his time at Red Bull Salzburg has only sharpened those skills. Though he has played mostly as a winger for Salzburg, and in recent matches for the USMNT, Aaronson was a central attacking midfielder with the Philadelphia Union and can fit right into the middle of the field.

Aaronson could also swap places with Gio Reyna, and have Reyna play centrally while Aaronson plays on the right wing. Having Aaronson operate on the right could also allow him to help Cannon with Lozano. Reyna’s presence in the middle would also force Mexico’s central midfielders to defend more.

Also, having the option to have Reyna and Aaronson swap roles at times could also make things tougher for Mexico to deal with.

We should also keep in mind that there is the potential for overtime, which would potentially men needing players like Lletget and Musah coming off the bench to play a good chunk of minutes.


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Christian Pulisic, Jordan Siebatcheu, Gio Reyna

As noted above, moving Reyna into a central role and starting an Aaronson or Tim Weah could yield a more dynamic lineup, though Reyna would find the going tough against an experienced and strong Mexican central midfield.

And what of the striker position? Sargent does so much dirty work, and his pressing from the front could help the Americans as they try to put pressure on Mexico, but it is tough to deny Siebatcheu’s current run of form and confidence level. This just might be the decision Berhalter has the toughest time with.

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.


  1. If Adams ISN’T in fact “ready to go” and doesn’t start, I’m starting to see the relative merit of a 3-5-2 against a team like Mexico.


    If Adams IS ready to go 90+ against a team that can punish us like Mexico can, then I think Ives’ lineup is decent. I’d start with Musah, though, in midfield for his ability to maintain possession and carry the ball upfield. Aaronson could be a major impact sub in the 60th or so (as opposed to waiting till the 78th to make any subs at all).

  2. If Ives projected lineup isn’t 100, then he’s 1-2 players difference. I still would like to see CP, Siebatcheu, Aaronson. McKennie-left mid, Musah-right mid and a healthy Adams, he should start not sub in. Robinson, Brooks, McKenzie, Dest in the back. We haven’t beat El Tri in competitive match since WCQ in ‘13. 2013??!!! I don’t want to see CP dribbling 1v 4 in the heart of Mexico’s midfield. I’ve seen that movie, ‘Hack-a-Chris!’ GC final, remember?! Aaronson & CP will get hacked to ankle & shin oblivion if most of the match is played through the middle. I’d rather see both start outside then slash inside. I think, Guardado is liability on defense not offense. I’d rather him spend so much energy chasing that he has nothing left to hit a game winner. Weah, Sargent, Reyna, sub for front 3. Acosta for Adams to see out the game. I expect a lot of bad calls against the US, & more El Tri supporters than US fans in the 303 tonight. Curious, anyone think we can possibly see 3-4-3, or variation?

    • There was quite a bit of speculation started by some reporters yesterday that the US will play 3 CBs. Then the Adams news broke and the formation talk cooled. One reporter made it sound like it was based on sources and not just guesswork. If Adams starts I would guess a 3-5-2 with Adams in front of the CBs. I doubt we’d go with 2 true CF so probably Sargent with either Gio or Pulisic underneath.

      • As I was typing my post, I had the strange thought like ‘What if Berhalter uses 3 in the back?’ Is that why the 3-4-3 was used in a friendly and the team has been working on it behind the scenes? Mexico played a 3-4-3 vs CR, what if GB counters Tata with a similar scheme? Of course, you know I’m a 3-5-2 fan.

    • Berhalter said in a press conference before Switzerland match he doesn’t like the current trend of just matching your opponents formation. So does he than go 3-5-2 or 3-6-1 or was that comment all to mess with Tata. Maybe we’re sticking with a 4-3-3 and yesterday’s leaks were just subterfuge?

  3. I’m more or less okay with the lineup. Sure, it depends on whether or not we can get at least 60 minutes out of Adams. Cannon is starting because of Lozano, just like Robinson started because of Elis. It’s purely tactical. Aaronson and Reyna swapping roles could make for a long evening for the Mexican defense. I’d like to see less of Pulisic trying to dribble 40 yards through the middle of the pitch. I hope that altitude factored in our poor play against Honduras and that the lads are more adjusted three days later. That and the final will be played at 7 MST as opposed to 5:30.

    This is a different team than the 2019 Gold Cup squad that looked listless in the final. We are capable of winning. Whether we execute is the question.

  4. if Adams can go, why pull Letget? he scores the goals for crying out loud! if he played in Europe, all here would hail him. I love you Ives, but man come on

  5. I like including Aaronson. I am not a fan of Cannon, and think Robinson would be a better choice (Dest switching left to right depending). Also, Sargent works really hard; he did that for Bremen as well. For Bremen, I thought he always faded in the 2nd half. Putting in Siebatcheu at 60 minutes as Sargent tires makes more sense. Also, need to get Musah some minutes to cap tie him.

  6. – With more effective passing from Reyna and Pulisic, Sargent would’ve had 2 goals, and awarded MOTM against Honduras. Pefok looks to be an effective sub around the 60th minute. Sargent’s tireless work rate wears down defenses, while Pefok is unproven in this area.
    – Throwing an inexperienced Aaronson against Mexico is risky. Excepting Honduras, Lletget has played well for the Nats recently. Aaronson may be a better sub as a winger or at midfield.
    – If Adams can give us 60-70 minutes, take it. The drop in quality is too deep to Acosta or Yueill.
    – Given more thought, Berhalter’s plan for simulating the upcoming WCQ 3 games per int’l break format will likely pay dividends. Stamina and depth will be so critical for this WCQ cycle. Look for the Gold Cup to be used to look for more depth before WCQ.

  7. Off topic but when the US plays it’s first qualifier in September it will not be in Trinidad. They were eliminated with a 0-0 draw with Bahamas. We will face winner of St Kitts &Nevis and El Salvador/Montserrat/Antigua.

    • A matchup with Hugo Perez’s El Salvador side would make for a good story. Josh Perez scored in his first cap for them today.

  8. I’m just not sold on Cannon, especially the opinion that he is our best one on one defender. I saw a Fulham game this season where Robinson just totally shut down Mo Salah. Salah is better by far than any attacker in CONCACAF. Meanwhile, who has Cannon stopped defensively? Week in and week out Robinson faced better attackers than Cannon DID and better attackers than found in CONCACAF.

    • I haven’t been very impressed with Cannon this week or in March but wasn’t Fulham in a 3 CB formation against Liverpool? Robinson had more support and did most of the time this season.

  9. Hoping Steffens practiced following the flight of the ball at elevation, especially crosses.

    Ives, the suggestion of Reyna more central is spot on. Not just just with the national team but domestically I expect him to be more of central attacking player and outstanding distributor.

    Even if Yueill or Acosta play I suspect the US will use Dest and Cannon to help carry the ball out of the defensive third. Just because a team presses it doesn’t mean a 6 needs to carry the load of breaking the press.

    It would be great if Adams is fit and can play 70 minutes?

    I suspect the US will target Brooks more on set pieces or at least use him as a decoy. I think they targeted him maybe twice vs Honduras? Brooks is a dominant in the air, use him! Also, McKeenie needs to finish service on set pieces.

    Hoping the US shows some width in the final third. Too often players are occupying the same space centrally. More diagonal runs off the ball and gets some passing triangles going.

    Super excited for this match!

    • Hard to tell who was targeted on set pieces vs Honduras. If Lleget is not on the field (even if he is) I wonder who takes the free kicks and corners?

  10. I like that projected. Hope Berhalter does that and doesn’t just stick to his keep the same lineup mentality.

    • I hope Adams does not find himself isolated vs Mexico. What I saw from the team on Friday is too much stranding the number 6 on transition. This is why a 3 back and 2 DM’s is appealing to some managers. Overall, the team needs to be less static, with better defensive cover and better combinations.

  11. Siebatcheu needs to start. We need to find out if we truly have other options besides Sargent who has plenty of chances to show us what he’s got. People can complain about the lack of service but we don’t have any Kevin DeBruyne’s on the team. So a USMNT striker is going to have to make due with whatever he gets. Siebatcheu got one chance and he buried it. Looking at his stats, you can tell it’s something he’s good at, because he played far fewer minutes in Switzerland but scored about 2X the goals of Sargent. I think Siebatcheu is also the better fit against Mexico, because his size (6’3″ 200lbs), age (25), and experience gives us a legitimate target striker. Because we know that Mexico is going to press and if our midfield has problems with this pressure, which has happened the last few times we have played them…Brooks can just drop one over the top to get our counterattack going.

    Besides, maybe Sargent needs to see that his place isn’t so secure to inspire him to be the kind of player we think he can be. Because right now he is stuck in a rut (goal line clearance aside)…

    • I agree I d like to see Siebatcheu but not because of the reasons you gave. A final is no time to try something or send a message to your starter. Unfortunately Sieba is the only proven goal scorer on the team. No one else has scored as much as him by a pretty good margin this season by 12 to 5. That together with his size advantage I think should get him the nod. Also, I think Sargent’s work rate coming off the bench would be a plus.

    • Maybe Siebatcheu start. That way when he sees the ball as much as Sargent did we can blame him for not scoring. Yes he scored the winner. Is that what it takes to get a starting position now? I would rather GB fixes his crappy midfield first before throwing forwards under the bus. Lack of service is not a new problem but rather a symptom of GBs stubborness

      • @ don nelson…just rewatch the last 2 matches man, LOTS of chances. the midfield is imperfect, but the chances are there. Need to improve conversion % and the tide rises for all. not a new idea, but all the chances we create is

    • @ jerry, good stuff, thank you. agree in this matchup he’s a better fit, and Josh can come off the bench and provide the winner, though as a two headed pair at the position both can contribute to victory no matter who starts


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