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