Gregg Berhalter won’t admit it, but as important as Thursday’s World Cup qualifying opener against El Salvador was, the U.S. men’s national team coach knew the tougher challenge was looming three days later in Nashville in the form of a dangerous Canada side.
Led by the dynamic duo of Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, the Canadian attack can and will test the American defense in ways El Salvador simply couldn’t, and that knowledge has surely shaped Berhalter’s planning for September’s qualifiers.
John Brooks was rested against El Salvador, and will step into the starting lineup to offer his poise, leadership and quality in central defense, while Zack Steffen’s back spasms will rule him out for a second straight match, making Matt Turner the likely choice to stay in the lineup in goal.
The potential return of Christian Pulisic should help a USMNT attack that struggled to generate chances against El Salvador, and he shouldn’t be the only new starter plugged into the front five to try and capitalize on Canada’s vulnerable backline.
With all that in mind, here is the starting lineup we could see the USMNT deploying against Canada in Sunday’s World Cup qualifier in Nashville, as well as the lineup we would deploy if we were making the final lineup decisions:
Projected USMNT Starting Lineup vs. Canada
SBI’s Preferred USMNT Starting Lineup vs. Canada
Who will start: Matt Turner
Who should start: Matt Turner
Zack Steffen is out for Sunday’s match, leaving Turner as the leading candidate to start in his place once again. Gregg Berhalter had high praise for Turner’s performance against El Salvador, sounding like a coach who will stick with the same starter even though Ethan Horvath is a viable option.
Who will start: Sergiño Dest, Miles Robinson, John Brooks, Antonee Robinson
Who should start: Sergiño Dest, Miles Robinson, John Brooks, Antonee Robinson
Tim Ream filled in admirably against El Salvador, but it’s time for Brooks to step in and be his imposing self against Canada’s dangerous forwards, which will have their hands full against a Brooks-Miles Robinson centerback pairing.
Canada’s speed on the wings is a problem, and a potential Alphonso Davies-Tajon Buchanan wing tandem will be a handful against any fullback pairing Berhalter chooses.
That said, Sergiño Dest steps his game up when facing tough challenges, and he got the better of Davies the last time they faced each other on international duty (in Nations League in 2019). Antonee Robinson has been in outstanding form for Fulham and should match up well against Buchanan.
If Robinson struggles, Berhalter could call on George Bello, who is no stranger to facing Buchanan from their battles in MLS.
Who will start: Weston McKennie, Sebastian Lletget, Tyler Adams
Who should start: Weston McKennie, Sebastian Lletget, Tyler Adams
Brenden Aaronson struggled against El Salvador, which shouldn’t be a total shock given it was his World Cup qualifying debut, but the performance should strengthen the case for Lletget, who has experience in qualifying, and who also played well against Canada when the USMNT routed the Canadians in Nations League in 2019.
Kellyn Acosta is another candidate to play in a central role, particularly if the USMNT is without Pulisic and/or Gio Reyna, who wasn’t at training on Saturday. Lletget could theoretically be deployed in a wide role, while Acosta can play as a box-to-box midfielder as he did early in the Gold Cup.
Who will start: Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, Gio Reyna
Who should start: Christian Pulisic, Jordan Pefok, Gio Reyna
Pulisic’s return should help open up space for Reyna to find gaps in the Canadian defense, while also potentially providing service for whoever Berhalter deploys at striker.
That striker should be Pefok, who showed some good glimpses in his second-half cameo against El Salvador, and because Josh Sargent simply didn’t play well enough on Thursday to justify another start.
Could we see Konrad De La Fuente given another start, which could allow Gio Reyna a chance to play in a central role? Plenty of fans may want that, but Konrad didn’t do enough against El Salvador to justify another start, and Reyna should play an important role on the right wing, not only keeping Canadian left back Richie Laryea honest, but also potentially providing service from the wing to Pefok, who is a threat in the air.
Reyna’s absence from training on Saturday has raised questions about his availability, and if he is unable to play for some reason then that would give Berhalter a big decision to make. With Lletget and Kellyn Acosta
What do you think of our projected lineups? Who would you play at striker? What changes would you make to the defense?
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