Defense has been the name of the game for the U.S. men’s national team at the Gold Cup, and three shutouts in four matches, with just one penalty kick allowed, shows just how solid Gregg Berhalter’s defensive setup has been.
A much tougher challenge awaits in the Gold Cup semifinals though, in the form of a dynamic Qatar attack that has scored goals in bunches throughout the competition and will present a much more difficult test than the Americans have faced so far in the tournament.
Gregg Berhalter will have that in mind when he considers his starting options for Thursday’s semifinal, and while we shouldn’t expect him to make too many drastic decisions driven mainly by Qatar’s qualities, there could be at least one or two lineup choices swayed in part by the desire to fortify the defensive structure.
Some squad rotation should also be in order with an eye towards the final, which takes place just three days later in Las Vegas, and while nobody should expect Berhalter to rest key players, any tight lineup decisions are likely to go in favor of the more well-rested option.
With all that in mind, here is the starting lineup we could see the USMNT deploying against Qatar on Thursday, as well as the lineup we would deploy if we were making the final lineup decisions:
Projected USMNT Starting Lineup vs. Qatar
SBI’s Preferred USMNT Starting Lineup vs. Qatar
Who will start: Matt Turner
Who should start: Matt Turner
Another strong showing vs. Jamaica keeps the New England Revolution goalkeeper in the top spot.
Who will start: Shaq Moore, James Sands, Miles Robinson, Sam Vines
Who should start: Reggie Cannon, James Sands, Miles Robinson, Sam Vines
You’re probably thinking ‘Why mess with the recipe?’ when the defense looked so solid against Jamaica. That’s a fair question, and Berhalter would be well within his right to stick with the same back four from the quarterfinal. If he does, nobody will bat an eye, but inserting Cannon would serve multiple functions.
For one, Cannon is a better defender than Moore in the 4-3-3 setup, and while he may not provide as much of an attacking threat as the Tenerife fullback, Cannon has played in a Gold Cup semifinal before and done well.
Secondly, Cannon would provide fresh legs in place of Moore, who has started four consecutive Gold Cup matches after jumping right into camp without a preseason. By starting Cannon, Berhalter would help Cannon get sharper for a potential final, while also resting Moore for the final as well.
Before you even think about whether Berhalter should deploy George Bello at left back, keep in mind that Qatar has a dangerous attacking right back in Pedro Miguel, who is a big part of what the Qataris do going forward. Vines was excellent against Jamaica and should stay in the role.
Centerback is locked and loaded with Miles Robinson and James Sands, though it should be noted that when Robinson took a knock to the head late in the quarterfinal it was Henry Kessler who was warming up to potentially replace Robinson rather than Donovan Pines. That’s something to remember if Berhalter has to go to his bench for defensive reinforcement against Qatar.
Who will start: Sebastian Lletget, Kellyn Acosta, Cristian Roldan
Who should start: Sebastian Lletget, Kellyn Acosta, Eryk Williamson
Lletget and Acosta are locks to start, and Acosta’s standout performance against Jamaica can’t be praised enough, but Gianluca Busio deserves some credit for the improvements he showed in the quarterfinal, particularly in the second half.
With that in mind, it’s easy to see Berhalter going with the more experienced Roldan in midfield. His impact off the bench was clear to see, though it should be noted it came playing in a wide role, which is why we think deploying Roldan further upfield makes sense against Qatar.
Which brings us to Eryk Williamson, who offers a bit more defensive bite than Busio. This pick is another case of seeing a chance to bring in a comparable player who hasn’t seen as many minutes, while giving Busio a needed rest after consecutive physically-challenging starts. Busio would be a good option to bring off the bench against Qatar to provide fresh legs and sharp passing if the Americans need a goal, or even if they are protecting a lead.
Who will start: Matthew Hoppe, Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola
Who should start: Matthew Hoppe, Gyasi Zardes, Cristian Roldan
Why would Berhalter start Arriola again after a poor showing against Jamaica? The D.C. United winger’s experience for one, and Berhalter could see the Jamaica game as one where Arriola needed to shake the rust off. It’s tough to see Berhalter benching Arriola after giving him the captain’s armband in the quarterfinal.
Should he? Roldan’s performance off the bench in the right forward role against Jamaica is why Berhalter should consider it, and why he should opt to use Arriola off the bench. Roldan gives you the defensive work you’ll need against Qatar, and can also provide good service, which has been lacking from the right flank for most of the Gold Cup.
At striker, Gyasi Zardes should be the pick after Daryl Dike struggled in his second consecutive start. Zardes’ ability to press from the front will be crucial to helping unsettle Qatar and lighten some of defensive responsibility for a USMNT midfield that will be needed to provide added support to the back-line.
Then you have Matthew Hoppe, who is coming off a standout showing against Jamaica, and who could absolutely thrive against a Qatar side that loves to attack, but also tends to leave plenty of space in behind, particularly in the right channel, where Hoppe will be operating. Pedro Miguel gives Qatar a real threat as an attacking right back, and it will be up to Hoppe to make Miguel put in an honest shift on the defensive end, or make Qatar pay if he doesn’t.
What do you think of our projected lineups? Which would you start? Who are you most excited to see play?
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