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
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
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.
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.
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?
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