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Who will, and who should start for the USMNT vs. El Salvador? (Take Two)


The U.S. men’s national team will begin its Concacaf World Cup qualifying campaign without Christian Pulisic and Zack Steffen, but the good news is Gregg Berhalter has options to help cover for those high-profile absences.

The decision to leave Pulisic in Nashville rather than having him travel to El Salvador two weeks after contracting COVID-19 wasn’t all that surprising, but Steffen’s absence due to back spasms certainly was. In steps the in-form Matt Turner to start in goal, leaving Berhalter to decide how to fill out the other 10 spots in the lineup.

There are some interesting decisions to make. Does he start Sebastian Lletget to give the squad a bit of World Cup qualifying experience, or does he go with a very young and attack-minded squad featuring Konrad De La Fuente in the starting lineup?  Will we see Brenden Aaronson or Gio Reyna deployed centrally, or does Pulisic’s absence ensure that they both play out wide?

With those questions in mind, and the big absences to account for, here is a second crack at the starting lineup we could see the USMNT deploy against El Salvador in Thursday’s World Cup qualifying opener, as well as the lineup we would deploy if we were making the final lineup decisions:

Projected USMNT Starting Lineup vs. El Salvador

SBI’s Preferred USMNT Starting Lineup vs. El Salvador


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Who will start: Matt Turner

Who should start: Matt Turner

The news of Zack Steffen’s back spasms issue, and Turner being tabbed the starter came out on Wednesday, and while in years past there may have been reason to panic if a Manchester City goalkeeper was sidelined for the USMNT, Turner’s heroics at the Gold Cup have given fans reason to feel confident he can do the job.

Berhalter said it was a difficult decision between Turner and Horvath, but the reality is Turner is in a much better rhythm due to his total games played in recent months. If and when


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Who will start: Sergiño Dest, Miles Robinson, John Brooks, Antonee Robinson

Who should start: Sergiño Dest, Miles Robinson, John Brooks, Antonee Robinson

The presence of veteran right back DeAndre Yedlin makes it at least possible that Berhalter moves Dest to left back and starts Yedlin, one of the few players on the squad with World Cup qualifying experience.

That said, Antonee Robinson has gained serious ground in the USMNT left back depth chart, and his form for Fulham has him entering the current camp playing well. That isn’t lost on Berhalter, who could be tempted to save Yedlin for a starting assignment against Canada, where his speed and savvy could help deal with Canada’s dangerous wingers.

At centerback, Brooks and Robinson should be the lock choices, especially given the lack of playing time Mark McKenzie has seen with his club team in the past month. That being said, we should expect to see McKenzie and James Sands get opportunities to start in September.


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Who will start: Weston McKennie, Sebastian Lletget, Tyler Adams

Who should start: Weston McKennie, Brenden Aaronson, Tyler Adams

Does Berhalter go with the experienced Lletget, or the red-hot Aaronson in central midfield? Lletget was a regular starter through the summer tournaments, and his previous experience in qualifying (he is the only available player on the squad with a World Cup qualifying goal to his name) gives him an edge, but it’s tough to deny just how well Aaronson is playing.

With Pulisic sidelined, Aaronson looks more likely to play out wide, but if Berhalter decides to go with a more attack-minded lineup, we could see Aaronson in a central role and Konrad De La Fuente on the left wing.


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Who will start: Brenden Aaronson, Josh Sargent, Gio Reyna

Who should start: Konrad De La Fuente, Josh Sargent, Gio Reyna

Brenden Aaronson is the safest bet to start in Christian Pulisic’s place on the left wing, though De La Fuente’s outstanding form for Marseille could tempt Berhalter to overlook his international inexperience and start him on Thursday.

Should De La Fuente start? He has handled himself extremely well on the left wing at Marseille. That said, De La Fuente might be a better bench option against El Salvador, giving the Americans a real speed threat that could punish a tiring El Salvador defense in the second half. A strong showing in that role could then lead to De La Fuente starting against Canada on Sunday.

At striker, Sargent started in June’s Concacaf Nations League tournament, and has international experience edge on Pefok, but Pefok has been playing much more in the past month on the club level, and scoring goals at a greater rate than Sargent so he could be the pick.

The tandem are a good bet to split starts, but will Berhalter deploy Sargent in El Salvador? That feels more likely, and the two-goal outing Sargent had in Carabao Cup action for Norwich City should have helped his cause.

Something else to consider is whether Berhalter will factor in Pefok’s heavy workload for his club in August, and consider that a reason to give Sargent the nod.

What do you think of our projected lineups? Which would you start? Who are you most excited to see play?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. SBI’s Preferred Line-up is what I’m hoping to see. Unfortunately I don’t think we’ll get it. The projected line-up is about the best we can expect from Gregg…and I expect him to use Ream, Roldan, & Acosta as his first 3 subs.

  2. Hmmm. Seems like there have been two articles just to drive home the point that Ives doesn’t rate Llegtet as highly as he thinks Berhalter does.

  3. pefok
    aaronson mckennie reyna dest
    bello zimmermann robinson yedlin

    the wingbacks make me nervous, and i expect him to start at least one CB (brooks) and at least one mid (lletget) that do the same

    • also, in terms of GB’s predicted lineup, i thought we were changing how we played, going for possession, etc. if you pushed the wing forwards back a little it would be a brazil-era klinsmann concept like jones-beckerman-bradley. if the idea is string passes, play people who could actually do that. if the idea is defend i could come up with better defensive formations than 433 and it’s a paradox to have mids to defend but backs to pass. this approach to 433 always feels to me like the coach got an idea to be hyperaggressive with the formation, offensive, then recoiled from the implications of what he was doing, and so stocked the midfield with hustle players. anyhow, i expect the same schizophrenia tonight, dest+1 wide and brooks in back, then two-way mids in the middle. i thought the idea was get us to the point we could keepaway to these results, but i expect this to descend into the muck, in part because how we stock the midfield.

      personally i am pro defense i just think the emphasis there should be on the back 6, no cute wingback choices, let the front 5 create, and pick them just for that. you will magically then get your strung passes.

  4. Who will be taking set pieces from this group? Pefok’s penalty attempt last week was awful. Lleget’s corner deliveries during the Gold Cup left a lot to be desired. Will it be Aaronson? Who is taking free kicks when trying to score? Reyna? Acosta is still the best dead ball striker on this team. Is he brought in if the US needs a goal?

    • hmmmm adams is back starting and getting plenty of time for RBL so we shall see what the coach does. if he plays 433 then maybe acosta gets the 3rd slot. if he plays 343 unless the coach goes with the NL mids you have only 2 central slots (the wings are really backs) and my guess would be mckennie and adams. though you never know. i think your post does speak to where a lot of what goes well is improvised or contradictory and thus can it be repeated next time. if we play A way one tourney, B way the next time, what are we doing this time. and if the guy taking the dead balls that got you through the rounds at GC is bench for WCQ then where do you get that service. my response: maybe as a 20-30′ sub late, depending on the scoreline.

    • If it’s the lineup SBI has -corners- Reyna , penalty kicks- Sargent, infield set pieces- Brooks. If Siebatcheu starts, then Reyna gets penalty kicks, with Sergino taking right corners, & Antonee taking left corners. I agree with Siebatcheu’s missed penalty kick attempt being awful. The youngest US squad ever for WCQ, we just haven’t seen other options in these roles as you pointed out.

  5. With Pulisic and Steffen left in Nashville perhaps GB is signaling he is really valuing Canada. Perhaps we see a line up that makes this clear with this game feature more the 2nd tier players on this roster mixed with a few top tier and subbing in more of those top tier guys if needed.

    • I don’t think it’s that at all, CP is just not in form because he hasn’t been able to train in 2 weeks and isn’t game sharp bc of Covid, and Steffen has a legitimate injury(back spasms). I think we’re going to see a mix of the GC squad and NL squad for all three games, which makes sense bc everyone showed during both tournaments that they can be relied upon to get the job done, so until we see different we probably need to prepare for that reality!

  6. High heat, high humidity, tall grass, awful officiating, fan nonsense of all kinds, 3am fire alarms in the away teams hotel…. the joys of Comcacaf away games.

    Can these young guys handle the environment which will actually be their biggest competitor tonight is what I’m watching for. Do they want to only dance or can they both dance and smash their opponents when needed. Will GB tryst this young group to handle this environment or will he go with more domestic veterans? It’s not an binary decision either IMO.

    Are you ready for some CONCACAFing tonight boys?

  7. Totally on board with the “who should start” line up

    Side note, what is the best XI from those NOT called in?

    Dike Hoppe Giaochinni

    Green Busio Williamson

    Scally Richards Miazga Cannon

    Ochoa (JK!)


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