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Who will, and who should, the USMNT start vs. Honduras?

A road World Cup qualifier in central America isn’t where you want to be taking a tired team for a must-win game, but that is the situation Gregg Berhalter and the U.S. men’s national team is facing as they prepare for Wednesday’s showdown with Honduras in San Pedro Sula.

Injuries, and one high-profile suspension, have left the Americans missing several key pieces heading into Wednesday, and after managing just two draws from their first two Octagonal qualifiers, they will vie for their first win riding what will likely be a tiring bunch.

Tyler Adams and Miles Robinson have played all 180 minutes of September’s qualifiers, and it is difficult to see the USMNT being without either against Honduras, while Brenden Aaronson has logged 159 minutes in two starts and is coming off the kind of strong showing against Canada that makes him an enticing option to start for a third straight time.

The risk with going with too many players in tired legs is being overrun by a Honduras team that has taken squad rotation to an unmatched level in the Octagonal. Catrachos head coach Fabian Coito made a whopping nine lineup changes from their opening draw against Canada to Sunday’s draw in El Salvador, and has spread the minutes around so much that every field player has seen action and only goalkeeper Luis Lopez has come close to playing 180 minutes.

To take it a step further, Honduras rested its entire first-choice defense against El Salvador, as well as its projected defensive midfield tandem (save for a five-minute cameo for Kervin Arriaga).

That means a USMNT attack that has struggled to generate chances through two qualifiers must now find a way to generate them against a rested back-line made up of three-fourths of the same Honduras defense that frustrated the Americans in the Concacaf Nations League semifinals (which the USMNT won 1-0 via a late Jordan Pefok goal).

Berhalter is light on fresh attacking options, in part because of the head-scratching decision not to call in any attacking replacements after having Tim Weah and Gio Reyna go down injured, and Weston McKennie suspended. Jackson Yueill’s inclusion is somewhat understandable given his experience playing against Honduras, but not also bringing in at least one attacking reinforcement made no sense at all.

What the USMNT does have is rested defensive options, which makes you wonder whether Berhalter will opt for a five-man defense in order to tap into the fresh legs that James Sands, Mark McKenzie and Walker Zimmerman can provide.

The safer bet for Berhalter would be to go with a five-man defense to withstand the likely early onslaught from a rested Honduran side, and he could learn a lesson from what Canada did to the Americans by saving some attacking weapons as good second-half options when things will presumably open up as legs tire. What Berhalter should have taken away from the Canada game is that he can’t wait too long to deploy his substitutions. That will be even more of a concern against Honduras given the likelihood that some players will begin fading as they play in their third qualifier in a week.

With all that in mind, here is a look at the lineup we could see the USMNT deploy against Honduras, the formation variation Berhalter could turn to, and the lineup we would deploy on Wednesday:


Projected USMNT 4-3-3 Lineup vs. Honduras



SBI’s preferred USMNT 4-3-3 lineup vs. Honduras



Projected USMNT 5-2-3 lineup vs. Honduras



SBI Preferred USMNT 5-2-3 lineup vs. Honduras



Goalkeeper


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Matt Turner is the pick, and has done nothing in his first two qualifying starts to suggest he can’t handle things in Honduras.


Defenders


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Who will start (4-3-3): DeAndre Yedlin, Miles Robinson, John Brooks, Antonee Robinson

Who will start (5-2-3): Kellyn Acosta, Miles Robinson, James Sands, John Brooks, Antonee Robinson

Who should start (4-3-3): Kellyn Acosta, Miles Robinson, John Brooks

Who will start (5-2-3): Kellyn Acosta, Miles Robinson, James Sands, John Brooks, Antonee Robinson

Antonee Robinson and John Brooks are locks to start, and the only reason we won’t call Miles Robinson a lock is because of the 180 minutes he has played in September qualifying, but he really is most likely a lock given his form.

That leaves the right back/right wingback role. DeAndre Yedlin played 46 minutes against Canada after starting against El Salvador, and you wonder if he’s ready to give another 90 minutes or close against someone like Romell Quioto.

That leaves us with Kellyn Acosta, who has looked very good in the right back role, and who could handle playing as a right wing back if Berhalter goes with a five-man backline.

If the USMNT goes with three centerbacks then look for James Sands to get the call. Honduras has no real aerial threats to deal with so this isn’t a game for Walker Zimmerman, and Mark McKenzie is the option if Miles Robinson is deemed too tired to start (though McKenzie’s recent lack of club minutes make him equally risky as a starter).

Sands has the ability to defend, distribute and slide into midfield when needed, and a formation with him in central defense and Acosta at right wingback would give the USMNT formation some serious adaptability to shift into different looks to try and break down a veteran Honduran defense.


Midfielders


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Who will start (4-3-3): Tyler Adams, Sebastian Lletget, Kellyn Acosta

Who will start (5-2-3): Tyler Adams, Sebastian Lletget

Who should start (4-3-3): Tyler Adams, Sebastian Lletget, Cristian Roldan

Who should start (5-2-3): Tyler Adams, Sebastian Lletget

Adams has played 180 minutes over two matches, but is simply too valuable to bench, and he’ll be up for the challenge of San Pedro Sula. Lletget gets the nod ahead of Cristian Roldan, and his experience puts him in the lineup over a Konrad De La Fuente.

An option Berhalter might consider is Acosta at right back and Roldan in central midfield. Roldan won’t be fazed by playing in Honduras and has big-game experience to handle himself in what will be a real fight against the physical Honduran central midfielders.

If Berhalter gives with five in the back, then Adams and Lletget should partner together in the middle, with Sands sliding into midfield on occasions.


Forwards


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Who will start (4-3-3): Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, Brenden Aaronson

Who will start (5-2-3): Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, Brenden Aaronson

Who should start (4-3-3): Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, Brenden Aaronson

Who should start (5-2-3): Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, Konrad De La Fuente

Pulisic is a lock at the left forward position, and given the physicality of Honduras’ two defensive midfielder central midfield setup, this isn’t the game to try Pulisic in a central role. Sargent gets the nod at striker over Pefok though Berhalter could go either way.

Aaronson is the real question mark. If he has enough gas in the tank after two starts, then he should get the nod in any setup because of his ability to press from the forward position, but if there is any question of fatigue, then Konrad De La Fuente’s fresh legs and quickness would make him a threat to test Honduran left back Diego Rodriguez from the opening minute.

The more likely scenario is Aaronson starts, and De La Fuente comes on for the final 30 minutes to push a potentially tiring Honduran defense.


What do you think of the projected starting lineup options? Which lineup would you go with? Which system would you prefer the USMNT deploy in Honduras, a 4-3-3, or five in the back?

Share your thoughts below.

Comments

  1. You don’t need to pull a rabbit out of hat tonight. Why overthink and strategize into an uncomfortable 90 minutes?
    Five in the back progressing into three or hybrid right backs is a stretch when you have more talent, but tired legs. Really don’t think Sands is up to the speed of the game
    Points of emphasis should be make Honduras uncomfortable when you have the ball. Get Pulisic the ball in more midfield positions. Make Honduras defend by moving the ball quicker but taking defenders on with the dribble. Aaronson, Sargent, and Pulisic are very capable
    Play quicker passes, if you receive a pass with open space take a dribble or two into the space but only if play out of it into a channel. This is were Reyna is missed and Pulisic needs to pick these spots. The thing is teammates need to recognize when Pulisic makes a pass to you look to play it back almost immediately. Brooks and Robinson should also look to move past midfield if no one picks them up and hit diagonal balls.
    Need more then one scoring chance off of set pieces. Two many weapons to not crash the box with size and strength. However, Pulisic does not look comfortable pulling the string on corners. Acosta has better touch
    Do not pick personal battles on the field but play and fight as a team

    Ives curious if you think Eryc Williamson if healthy would have gotten the call up?

    Reply
  2. Injuries and roster selections have left limited options. I typed in my proposed lineup and then deleted it cuz it was horrible but I havent seen anything I like yet. Kind of reinforces IV saying hard to try to pick roster without ending up with people not with the team right now. I will still watch and root for all the players on the feild, though.

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    • 3-5-2, my preferred. 3-4-3 (winger width), 3-4-2-1 (2 under a striker). Same players all 3 systems.
      Sargent, BA
      A.Robinson, Adams, Acosta, CP, Yedlin,
      M. Robinson, Brooks, Sands
      Horvath
      Subs- 65’ Zimmerman -RCB (Brooks), Sands moves to the middle,
      75’ Lleget (Acosta), Roldan (Yedlin), Pepi (Aaronson). The hardest part for me is subbing the last player- Siebatcheu, who scored the winner vs Honduras, or McKenzie for defensive purposes. If only GB played Pepi at home, I would’ve been easier to see who plays this match.

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  3. I think Berhalter’s problem is his stubbornness with a 4-3-3. We don’t have 3 midfielders that will get and hold onto the ball long enough to dribble up the field and get it to the 3 forwards. Our first instinct once we have the ball is to immediately pass it back. We need (hopefully for the next qualifying window) Pulisic, McKennie, Reyna and Adams on the field together in the middle with Sargent, who is good at holding up the ball, and Hoppe, who will go at defenders, as our 2 forwards.

    Sargent-Hoppe
    Pulisic-McKennie-Reyna
    Adams
    Robinson-Brooks-Robinson-Dest

    This 4-3-3 is simply not working. Aside from the midfielders mentioned above, only Aaronson is also willing to dribble and go at the opposition. I’d rather see Berhalter go rather than McKennie, sorry.

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  4. Ok to lighten things up a little before this big game. Is it me or does Antonee Robinson look like Christopher Reid (“Kid”) from Kid ‘n Play back from the 80’s/90’s? Take a look at the older pictures and you can’t tell me he does not.

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  5. I’d start Pepi somewhere, personally, either at central striker or at right wing. You brought him in, he’s got fresh legs, use him and give him an extended run-out and see if somebody with an actual nose for goal can cure what ails you as far as scoring, otherwise why’d you bring him in? Personally I’d bring him in as a CF and use Sargent as a right wing, but that’s me.

    Reply
    • I’m with you Quozzel. Add Pepi and go 2 strikers. Put Pulisic in MF and have him connect with the FW. Yedlin is fine at RB with a MF in front of him. Pick anyone. Antonee is fine at LB with a MF in front of him. Pick anyone. Pulisic and Tyler in the middle combining with each other.

      Why would you do anything else at this point? Run Sargent until he dies and add Pefok at the end as a 3rd striker if you have to… taking out Yedlin.

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  6. One of our big problems is that we have no real pace on the attack. To slow and too predictable. We need to inject a speed demon in the lineup to keep the Honduras backline honest and not let them push up too high. Looking at the roster, Konrad is the fastest guy and needs to play a bigger role. Moving forward we need a speedy striker to pair up with Sargent/Pefok.
    Finally I think we need to go to 4-4-2 with Pulisic and Adams top and bottom of the midfield diamond and Saragent/Pefok paired with a speedy striker (maybe that young mls kid we called up?). We keep playing with only one real striker and we have seen it doesn’t work. We are slow and predictable with weak presence in front of goal.

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  7. At this point I think we begin defensively with 5 in the back. Going with Ives’ preferred, I like some features, but not others. Acosta has played a lot of minutes so I’d be tempted to play Yedlin at RB. I don’t think Quioto is that fast and Yedlin should be able to handle him. Yedlin should be told to be hesitant in going forward, though. I’d save Acosta as a replacement for Adams in case he tires or for RB in case Yedlin isn’t up to the task. Because of Brooks’ screw up, I would be tempted to play someone else. Maybe Zimmerman. Up front I would replace Sargent with Pefok, since I think he is better in the air.

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  8. Sargent has to start, he is too good at linking play to leave out. Pulisic has to start because he’s Pulisic. I would roll dice and start Pepi at right forward. Not much option in midfield except go with Adams, Acosta, and Lletget and hope they can dig deep and find the necessary energy to get it done. Antonee Robinson needs to be out there. Maybe Sands for fresh legs at CB? No idea what to do with right back.

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  9. So frustrating to have to worry about Aaronson, Adams, Pulisic, Robinson tiring in a must-win game. I still can’t get past the poor planning with substitutions, we get 5! subs a game, have greater depth than anyone, and we didn’t use it! Now Honduras has a more rested team than us. Ok I am going to try and get past it and put myself in the manager’s shoes, and this is what I would do. I know my job is on the line so I’m going to roll the dice and go with fresh legs. Oh wait, I don’t have any fresh legs for the midfield…so nevermind. Can’t take out my most talented attacker or most important player, so…I have to hope it isn’t too big a ask for Adams, Pulisic, and Aaronson to go win me a game after not managing their minutes better in the first two.

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  10. We’re going back to the hybrid RB
    —————Sarge————-
    CP———————-Konrad
    ———Acosta—Seba———
    —————Yueill—————
    Bello-Brooks-MRob-Adams

    Reply
    • I could almost live with this except for Yueill being in the starting XI. Yueill proved over multiple games against this same opponent that he’s not up to the challenge. He was destroyed by Honduras at the U-23 level and again during Nations League. He was so bad during the Gold Cup that after the first game he basically never saw the field again.
      If you’re moving Adams to RB than insert Sands as the CDM…at least he has shown moments of usefulness.

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      • I thought of that but as I said I was half trolling. Honestly I’d take Yueill as a 6 with Ty at RB over Acosta filling in at RB. He was pretty shaky against Martinique and again versus ES.

    • Another scary thought Jackson has been playing AM for SJ. Imagine Roldan and Yueill in front of Acosta at the 6. At that point turn off the tv it won’t be worth watching even if we win.

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      • I’m not sure if I’m going to be able to stomach watching the game after the poor preparation & poor performances displayed the last 2 games.
        I got ripped apart by people when I suggested that we use a “B” team for nations league and use a B+/A- team for the Gold Cup (1 month together) as a way to build chemistry ahead of WCQ.
        We went with a B/C team for the GC and are now struggling to find rhythm during Qualifying because we have no chemistry or understanding.
        Ernie & Gregg need to be on the Hot Seat based on the results to this point.

    • @JOHNNYRAZOR, Jackson Yueilll, really? How about James Sands at 6? Sands can defend and can pass much better than Yueill (speaking as a San Jose Earthquakes’ fan).

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      • Simon, Did you see the comment that said I was half trolling. I don’t really think we’ll see the hybrid RB but it wouldn’t be any worse.

  11. We should play a 3-5-2, with Pulisic and Pepi as the forwards. Give Pulisic the freedom to roam. You have Sands and Adams to cover and help brooks if Jedi get’s caught up field.

    Reply
    • we need to quit playing players with the idea that _____ can cover for him. carry your own water or get lost. this is why i keep suggesting dest as a wing or wing sub. quit pretending, quit “covering,” if you can defend your position the question is can you play forward. dest would potentially stay around, brooks would not.

      that being said i actually agree with you on 451 or 541 or 352, defensive wall and look for something on the counter or a dead ball. and i think a tilted back formation might egg honduras out where we can play through or over and get the passes from behind their backline we have been missing. i wouldn’t play 343 unless we fall behind because it gives us no mids to fight with. and if we did play it i’d run out 7 guys who can attack and just make them poop their pants defending them all.

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  12. Great article, Ives, but I vehemently disagree with your point that “the more likely scenario is that Aaronson starts, and De La Fuenta comes on for the final 30 minutes to push a potentially tired Honduran defense,” because that would require Berhalter to use subs for tactical, game-changing reasons. He doesn’t do that. Rather, he makes subs during injury time, for the final three minutes, not to run down tired defenders but to run down the clock.

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    • Berhalter made subs at around the 60 minute mark during the Nations League and the Gold Cup. Those subs were effective in turning those games in our favor. It’s unclear why he waited so long to put subs on against Canada, but there’s no reason (yet) to think that it will be an ongoing thing.

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      • There’s been a long running complaint that Berhalter has no plan B, actual soccer people have been saying no it’s not that there isn’t a plan it is that it takes him too long to implement. After this Summer we thought he’d learned/adjusted. During his latest interview with Warshaw Berhalter indicated they had learned a lot during GC about how to strategically use subs specifically talking about the FB rotation during GC. We’ve seen none of that either with FBs or any other position group. If that was your big lesson as soon as you get in the weeds you go right back to going with your gut, you are in trouble.

  13. i find the exercise of what XI we would use to be thought provoking, but in his specific case, for each of these games, you so rapidly notice some unaddressed roster deficiency that it prompts wtf before you even make one out. my brain starts wanting to include omitted players. if a working stiff can see that how can’t the coach? is he unaware we can swap players anytime? are we working within some sort of unstated bubble rules on covid calls? cause it’s like, why not this euro based guy. failing that, this MLS guy. i get a MyObject=nothing error.

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    • in terms of who is left
      aaronson pefok
      bello adams pulisic acosta sargent
      MRobinson zimmermann sands
      turner
      352
      a subset of GB’s “i wish i could call….” problem is a set of his calls are junk where you’re like, “but not him” to rotate or change things up. so you end up proposing players who are probably exhausted to try and execute what is at best a 1-0 game strategy, more likely play for another tie. personally if i am playing for 0-0 i want fresh legs and competent defenders.

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    • I do think Covid effects travel basically makes everything take an extra day by the time testing is through. So say you want to replace Dest with Reynolds. It will take him all Monday to travel and test. Tuesday then is travel to Honduras, with maybe a walk thru at stadium. Then Wednesday game. So a Euro replacement would have two straight days of international travel play a game and another full day of international travel. I’m not even sure Fifa would allow that. Clubs would also balk at you flying a replacement across the Atlantic for one game that they might not even play. Yueill fills the roster at 23 that’s why there was only one addition. I’m not sure why you didn’t see someone even from MLS replace Gio last week. I think those players that made transfers were told they would be left in Europe to orient with their new clubs.

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      • sorry but this is where GB simply doesn’t get it, is kind of confused. you do not leave people off to “bed in” for qualis. i seriously hope that is a PR evasion where he doesn’t want to say what he thinks, rather than he took less than his best team, hoping he got away with it, for non-NT reasons, when club teams are on break. you realize that, right? they aren’t playing games while we play games.

        cause right now we need everyone we can muster and he has people off practicing — not playing — club. you do that for meaningless friendlies, or for veteran players for tournaments. the whole point to the “have to release” rule is we can get anyone we want, and that these games matter so much, we should. to then treat it like a friendly or be so arrogant as to think we will skate without them, is silly. man buys his own press. arena won gold cup and was out of a job within 2 months missing russia. it turns that fast if you don’t implement a fully functional team, with enough good players rostered, and you don’t take it seriously enough.

    • The term you want is obdurate. The manager is obdurate, inflexible, not willing to change his plans even in the face of evidence to the contrary.

      Yueill is here and will probably play in Honduras. How much more proof do you need?

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  14. I’m usually with the benefit of the doubt that coaches are coaches, and should be able to analyze most of the time and plan/tweak game plans at least as best as possible. But with Berhalter, I’m at a loss. Klinsmann was a rah rah guy who couldn’t plan very well at all. Berhalter is a guy who thinks he can game plan tactics, and has no sense of motivation for the squad, hence about the same (or worse)

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    • Berhalter believing in his own grand vision and tactics is a problem. At this point, I think we’d be better off- putting Pulisic, Adams and Brooks in a room together and asking them how we should play. Also, does he notice that he is getting completely outmatched by other teams in terms of in-game management? Is he incapable of having a plan B and C?

      Reply

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