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Who will, and who should start for the USMNT vs. Costa Rica?


To call the starting lineup chosen by Gregg Berhalter for Sunday’s Concacaf World Cup qualifying loss to Panama a surprise is an understatement, and the result of Berhalter’s seven-player shakeup was the worst performance in a competitive match since he took over as U.S. men’s national team coach.

So what lessons will Berhalter take from having his chosen lineup fall painfully flat for the second time in three qualifiers? We will find out on Wednesday, when the USMNT should welcome back several key starters against Costa Rica.

The biggest issue with the Panama lineup was the lack of truly in-form players, with Behalter sitting Ricardo Pepi, Brenden Aaronson, Tyler Adams and Miles Robinson. Concerns about fatigue and keeping the group fresh were understandable, but sitting that many of his most in-form options was always going to be a gamble.

Unfortunately for Berhalter, some of the players he would have expected to be able to count on for strong showings failed to deliver, most notably Tim Weah, Kellyn Acosta and Yunus Musah. There were others who looked tired and could probably have been better served to have been rotated out of the lineup, such as Paul Arriola and Walker Zimmerman.

The good news is Berhalter should have several of his top options back in the lineup, including Weston McKennie and Antonee Robinson, along with the standouts he chose to try and rest, in Adams, Aaronson and Pepi. That quintet alone should help the Americans respond on Wednesday with a much better showing than the historic loss in Panama.

The challenge for Berhalter will be deciding which of his underperformers from Sunday will he give another chance, and which bench options might he gave a first crack at starting?

With all that in mind, here is a look at the lineup we could see the USMNT deploy against Costa Rica on Wednesday :

Projected USMNT Lineup vs. Costa Rica

SBI’s preferred USMNT lineup vs. Costa Rica


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Who will start: Zack Steffen

Who should start: Matt Turner

It seemed a good bet from the beginning of camp that Berhalter might have Zack Steffen start the third match, against Costa Rica in Columbus. As impressive a run as Matt Turner has been on, Berhalter is sure to have faith in the Manchester City goalkeeper to deliver a good showing in Columbus, where he used to play for the Crew.

That move feels like more of a gamble now, after Sunday, when we saw Turner be the only USMNT starter who actually played well. He is in top form, in a rhythm from playing regularly, and has gained the trust of his teammates. That, coupled with the heightened importance of securing three points after Sunday’s loss should make Turner the first name on the team sheet.


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Who will start: Sergiño Dest, Miles Robinson, Mark McKenzie, Antonee Robinson

Who should start: Sergiño Dest, Miles Robinson, Chris Richards, Antonee Robinson

The biggest question here is in central defense, where Berhalter could give Mark McKenzie another run despite his shaky showing against Panama. Walker Zimmerman was clearly fatigued against Panama and isn’t really an option.

Then you have Chris Richards, who hasn’t started in an official competitive match yet for the USMNT, but who has been playing well in the Bundesliga and is arguably the best centerback prospect in the USMNT pipeline. By all accounts he should start next to Miles Robinson, but will his lack of prior USMNT experience lead Berhalter to go with McKenzie instead?

At fullback, if Dest is healthy, then he starts at right back, but if he is hobbled, Berhalter must turn to DeAndre Yedlin. Shaq Moore lacked sharpness against Panama, and that shouldn’t have come as a surprise given his lack of minutes on the club level.


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

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

Who should start: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Gianluca Busio

One of the biggest disappointments of the Panama loss was the awful play of the USMNT midfield, and that poor showing should rule out Sebastian Lletget, Kellyn Acosta and Yunus Musah as starting options against Panama. Berhalter may not see it that way though, and he could be tempted to give Lletget another start, only this time playing with a stronger supporting cast.

The better option would be Gianluca Busio, who came into camp in good form for Serie A side Venezia. His poise on the ball and vision make him an excellent choice, and he would be preferred ahead of the likes of Luca De La Torre.


Chuck Burton-USA TODAY Sports

Who will start: Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi, Gyasi Zardes

Who should start: Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi, Tim Weah

Pepi and Aaronson should slide right back into the starting lineup without any question, which leaves the right wing role, and a few ways Berhalter could go. We project Zardes here as potential move Berhalter could consider given his preferences and Zardes’ ability to press. Berhalter put Josh Sargent in a similar spot next to Pepi against Honduras, and while Sargent struggled in that deployment, Berhalter could see Zardes being better suited for the role.

The better option would be giving Weah another start. Sure, he didn’t have a good game against Panama, but no field player really did, and Weah showed some really good glimpses against Jamaica and could thrive playing alongside the likes of Pepi, Dest and Aaronson.

Matthew Hoppe is another option to consider as a wing starter, though he looks more likely to be a change-of-pace option off the bench against the Ticos.

What do you think of the projected starting lineup options? Which lineup would you go with?

Share your thoughts below


  1. I’m nervous as hell about SBI’s projected lineup. Even though GB has gone with the SBI preferred lineup once. Here’s what I would Iike to see in a 4-3-3. (If everyone is healthy)
    Weah, Hoppe, BA
    LDT, Adams, McKennie
    Jedi, M. Robinson, Richards, Yedlin
    Subs- 65’ Busio (BA), Busio plays RW, Musah (LDT), 75’- Dest (Weah), plays LW, Pepi (Hoppe), I would let the match play out b4 choosing my 5th sub. Only reason I didn’t drop a lineup earlier. If Jedi can’t go is a sub @ LB? If Yedlin gets gassed, is it RB? Does Adams go the 90+, seeing how bad Acosta has been playing. Is McKennie’s quad going to be ok? I know one thing, all of us are tired of seeing players getting called up and not being used. I hope we win and get 3 points but if Richards, Busio, Hoppe don’t play in the process. Why call them up? Everyone outside of the 3rd GK can contribute. This is not the time to tryout or trial anyone.

  2. Hoppe Pepi Aaronson
    Busio Adams McKennie
    Robinson Richards Robinson Dest

    Panama wasn’t Weah’s fault but if we start slow again, Hoppe will drop deeper into the midfield to make something happen. Something Weah never really did. Rather have Weah’s speed coming on as a sub again.

  3. I’ve long ago given up trying to guess the starters any coach is going to pick. Sometimes the coaches look like geniuses sometimes they look like fools. JK’s picking someone he saw in a pickup game or someone based purely on speed, those turned out predictably bad. Bradley starting Connor Casey in Honduras to nearly everyone’s consternation and Casey leading the US to victory with two goals in an important WC qualifying match or Hedjuk getting the start in WC Qualifying in Panama and delivering for a team that looked pretty berift of ideas.

    There are a lot of moving parts in choosing the starters, not all of them are knowable to the fans. But half the fun is crowing how much smarter we are than the coach.

    So despite the poor result vs Panama, I think the US will recover to win at home. Remember Berhalter led 2 essentially different US teams to win the Nations League and the Gold Cup.

      • I never said that. I was merely pointing out the truth, that Berhalter has had some success, even though it seems a significant portion of the USMNT fan base are convinced they could to a better job. My favorite for the job would be Marsch, assuming he is successful at Leipzig.

      • I luckily have my kid’s parents vs kids end of season soccer match at the same time so I won’t be watching live.

    • In our friendly against Switzerland Lletget played well and scored a goal. He is one of the better midfielders in MLS, IMO. He had a lousy game and doesn’t deserve to start but it’s ridiculous to completely blackball him.

      • I agree; he’s one of our more skilled and technical players in the pool.

        These type of players don’t thrive playing against CONCACAF teams away from home on poor surfaces. Even Pulisic didn’t do well against T&T away during the last World Cup cycle.

      • Gary, if only it was one bad game. He was quite bad throughout the GC and its continued. If we had our full strength squad and slid Sebi in as the 8. I wouldn’t have a problem with him as the 7th or 8th option. That’s where his NT goals have come from, arriving late when the defense is scrambling. When he is supposed to initiate the attack he consistently turns away from light pressure and ends the attack.He’s not one of the best MFs in MLS, he had a good season last year and one in his first year in the league until everybody got him scouted. 2 good not great seasons in 5? He’s basically a 4g 4a guy over the course of his career. You can’t add average defender to average offense and get anything but average. He can’t be the creative force of he’s risk adverse and one dimensional.

    • Helium he has one skill arriving late in the box. He is not a good passer nor can he beat a defender off the dribble. He’s a recycler he identifies trouble and tries to get the squad out of it. Unfortunately he increasingly sees trouble when it is not there. He earned Berhalter’s trust against unorganized unfit Concacaf teams post Covid, now that those teams have games under the belt and organized defenses he is a hindrance in level with Yueill, Trapp, and Lewis.

    • And to be honest my original comment is as much a critique of Berhalter and his inability to change in a timely fashion as it is a critique of Lleget.

  4. I thought Musah did just fine. He may seem like he is not a great passer because he doesn’t make the tough ones, this is because he dribbles out of danger and then makes the easier pass.

    I was surprised he was taken out instead of Lletget. Lletget should have been replaced by DLT.

    • Actually vs Panama, Musah dribbled then lost the ball more often than he made a pass. Also, he was very casual with the ball, losing control for no reason under no pressure. It looked like he did not take the game seriously (I am sure he took it seriously, but he really looked out of touch and failed to take care of the ball). Basically he had a bad game.

      • Against Panama I think Musah was trying to do too much due to lack of confidence in the players around him. In the game against Jamaica he was partnered with McKennie & Adams in the midfield with Dest, Robinson, Aaronson, & Pepi at the wider positions. Against Panama he had no creative/technical players to play the ball to or receive the ball from. Panama was a lot of stagnant predictable movements which limited his effectiveness.
        ESPN finally called Gregg out for his tactics (except for Stevie N.) and questioned what he was thinking. 1st time in recent memory that I’ve seen the mainstream media actually question/pressure USSF and their approach.

  5. This Mckennie A. Rob injury noise has me nervous. We may see a Lletget Adams Musah/Acosta midfield, Dest out left, Yedlin out right to start. God knows who else up top.

  6. This what I think he will do and what I think he should do except I would probably keep Turner in goal. Zimmerman has played very well and I dont think he logged a lot of miles so I think he has a 3rd game in him.

    A Robinson-Zimmerman-MRobinson-Dest

  7. If Dest is unable to go, we have Joe Scally who’s been strong this year against top-notch opposition. He can play either defensive back position too.


    • In GB’s alternative world, Bello is the better player than Scully because Bello has played many games at the MLS level while Scully only has 7 games against minnows like Bayern.

  8. i feel like the projected lineup is bait. hope this isn’t actually what you’re hearing from sources!!! Zardes on the wing and Lletget in the middle breaking down a low block.. come on!

  9. I don’t get why everyone’s always so pumped about different lineup tweaks. We’ve seen a different lineup in all ~15 games since the summer started, and we sucked in every one that wasn’t against a pickup team from a Caribbean beach.
    There is no lineup that will make us not suck right now. You have a coach with no top-level experience who can’t judge talent, makes good players play bad soccer, and can’t gel a team or a style beyond kick-and-run.

  10. NOT playing Hoppe, Busio and Richards would be criminal. You didn’t bring them to camp to watch as we trot out Zardes, Lleget and Arriola again.

    I hate having the issue of not being able to cram in a 3-5-2. I want to see Busio play and Aaronson more central as the 10, but I don’t have enough defenders or really anywhere for Busio to play with McKinnie, Adams and Aaronson. I guess a 4-5-1 would work, but that takes out Hoppe.

    GGG’s 4-3-3 better be:


    Not sure who is going to lead the attack, though. You are missing a connecting CAM, and that is an issue.

    • 361 with 4 central mids, and one pair of wings who go from the top line to the back like a 352.

      i think we have to be offensively aggressive because home game and because costa rica has a decent defense but struggles on offense right now. i think if we go out there cautious like canada again, this is a 3 GA in 5 games team that will gladly take a road point, and 4 points in 3 games would be pitiful, and risky with mexico being the halfway point.

      best i can tell they might field about 1/2 the lineup we beat 4-0 this june.

      • Tried a 3-6-1 last year when we couldn’t score goals. We had a bunch of mids and no real strikers. Key is a hold up player that can play with his back to the goal and distribute. Tried 2 10’s that moved off of the target, but you have to have that guy. Not sure we have that guy, and Pepi is not built like that. Maybe Pefok COULD do it, but he is not here.

      • i’m not advocating a 361, too defensive for me, and more pointedly, this is a defensive opponent with low GA and we need to be aggressive to get goals and a result. was just putting words to what i thought he was trying to articulate. barca has shown up for games before without much of a real forward, and one way it could be used is as positionless soccer. to me it’s odd we adopted the 433 but are very staid and in our position slots. but then that to me reflects the schizophrenia of wanting this aggressive idea but then recoiling from some of its implications.

    • With what you have- Busio would be that connecting CAM. He may play some 6 in Serie A, but Venezia got Ethan Ampadu, who is a pure 6. I know, Busio will get hacked by CR, as well as BA playing in the midfield. Since I have been campaigning for 3-5-2, (since ‘17 on SBI), I got a line up for you.
      McKenzie, Miles, Richards
      Jedi, Adams, LDT, McKennie, BA
      Weah, Pepi
      Subs- RWB- Dest (BA), MF- Musah (LDT), MF- Busio (Weah), CF- Hoppe (Pepi), CB- Zimmerman (McKenzie)
      If everyone is healthy, and it’s a 3-5-2, this what I would like to see. I got a 4-3-3 lineup, because I believe that’s GBs base formation.

      • I think I struggle in my coach’s mind about balancing PT with formation. I’ll go back to my original post… Not playing Busio and Hoppe at this point is criminal. You don’t bring them to camp, in form and playing, to not play.

        As a coach, I would want to see BA in that attacking 10. But, that kills the midfield balance, knowing that Adams and McKinnie are playing. There is no room at the inn for Busio in this scenario. NOW, if Dest or McKinnie are not playing, this could work.

        At the end, can’t see GB NOT playing a 4-3-3. That’s his baby, and he is gonna ride with it, even if means Hoppe or Zardes play out of slot as wings.

  11. hoppe pepi dest
    aaronson adams mckennie
    robinson robinson zimmermann moore

    not usually a fan of 433 but here i think we need some tactical aggression to chase 3 points on a tough defensive costa rica team.

    weah aaronson musah all looked tired. have them come in as subs.

    every time i have to do one of these i get cranky because of the lengthy list of players who would be in an XI or at least 23 to work with, but are not in this “universe” to even choose.

    • i forget dest limped off in which case if that is a problem i’d consider the out of box ideas of either musah wing aaronson mid, weah wing aaronson mid, or aaronson wing weah mid. or some mix of same. musah plays wide in club. weah regardless what TM says i’d swear had a cap or two where he at least spent some time as a mid. personally i prefer max talent out there over positional purity. this “arriola and zardes” nonsense is the apotheosis of system ideas and system players over common sense and fielding talent. at least at this point in the pool. it was different 4 years ago, but we have progressed. i am somewhat leery of it being weah wide because that was precisely what worked in june and they aren’t idiots, and he looked less explosive game 2. i think he could sub in wide, i think he could start at mid, but if the idea is play him 90′ and try to xerox june, i’d expect a lineup card designed to thwart the precise way they got blitzed in june. at least initially. and there is no cannon.

    • IV’s lineup at least recognizes the poor defensive contribution Dest has been guilty of too often and recognizes his ability to dribble at defenders. I think Dest is best as an wide mid in a 3-5-2, at least against teams that do not attack well up their left side and when he remembers he is supposed to defend.

      • yeah, let’s be real, as someone who played some wing mid in select and college, it’s a fairly intense defensive position and you will get punished if you don’t track back. there’s a reason i generally put him on the sheet as a forward, or sometimes as a mid but with a wingback. i wouldn’t trust him in a 352 or 343 or anything where the whole wing (at least defensively) was his responsibility. but i think he does have tons of attacking talent and has been perhaps miscast.

  12. Berhalter should be fired if we don’t get the 3 points against Costa Rica.

    There will be only 8 games remaining, and at almost the half-way point of qualification. The new coach will have 8 games to qualify.

    Berhalter has been given more than enough time to succeed at this point. There should be no excuse with the wealth of talent available at his disposal.

    Remember Klinsmann was fired only after the first 2 games of the final round, albeit against the best 2 teams in the region, Mexico and Costa Rica.

    • “Remember Klinsmann was fired only after the first 2 games of the final round, albeit against the best 2 teams in the region, Mexico and Costa Rica.”

      The difference is the knives were out for JK at the USSF while this guy is their boy. He’s a company man. Ever notice how hard it is to get any of the ex players or USSF people to criticize him? They start to look constipated.

      Losing to CR would not be fatal but it would officially raise alarms. It would make their already thin margin of error even more anorexic. And we haven’t even played Mexico yet. The way this team has played they could beat everyone or they could lose to anyone. We’ll know soon, as the Octagon is about to get harder.

      Remaining games:

      Costa Rica 10/13/21 H

      Mexico 11/12/21 H
      Jamaica 11/16/21 A

      El Salvador 01/27/22 H
      Canada 01/30/22 A

      Honduras 02/02/22 H

      Mexico 03/24/22 A
      Panama 03/27/22 H
      Costa Rica 03/30/22 A

      • We got 8 points from 5 games against the weakest teams, well Canada is no longer weak but:


        And lets assume IF we can at least get 8 from the next 5 games:
        Costa Rica 10/13/21 H
        Mexico 11/12/21 H
        Jamaica 11/16/21 A
        El Salvador 01/27/22 H
        Canada 01/30/22 A

        Then we have Mexico (Away) and CR (Away) in the last 3 matches. We will most likely get 3 against Panama at home, but it won’t be enough. The time to fire him has not looked any better.

  13. If GGG is going to bench players due to bad play in the last game, goodbye Arriola, Acosta, Zardes and Lletget. Since that won’t happen, I’d actually rather see Musah starting than anyone of them and give Hoppe a shot to show his wing play as in the GC.

    Musah McKennie
    Robinson Robinson Richards Dest

  14. In the midfield I would start Musah, McKennie and Adams again….let Musah redeem himself. As a unit they probably played the best together and better than any other unit so far.
    I would start Hoppe instead of Weah, give him his shot…he can be dangerous too and deserves it.

    • I agree with all that. Weah is one of the players that didnt perform well. Not sure why he gets a pass. Hoppe will find the game and find a way to get shots even with no support like the Gold Cup.

    • My fear is that GGG will overreact and play Lletget with Adams and some oddball mix of attacking players. I don’t feel comfortable speculating about the actual lineup. Who knows? GGG knows.

      • The scary thing is, that’s the projected lineup. McKenzie in the back is frightening and starting Lletget with Zardes? Oof. I think it’s that or possibly worse, but would prefer Ives’ lineup. I hope I’m jinxing the bad lineup.

      • The scary thing is, that’s the projected lineup. McKenzie in the back is frightening and starting Lletget with Zardes? Oof. I think it’s that or possibly worse, but would prefer Ives’ lineup. I hope I’m jinxing the bad lineup.

      • I don’t think Ives’ protected lineup is as odd ball as I could imagine. Maybe GGG will throw Hoppe on the left with Zardes on the right, start LDT with Lletget and Adams, rest Dest and start Yedlin on the right. I couldn’t imagine doing that myself, and maybe I’m having a little fun at GGG’s expense… but I can’t say it’s out of the question for our manager to do something we never imagined in the worst way possible.

  15. It wouldn’t shock me if Berhalter started Hoppe as a wing, with Pepi in the middle and Aaronson on the other side. It would be like starting Pepi against Honduras: an out of the blue move that might shake things up a bit, and might throw CR off some. If not Hoppe, I’d like to see Weah there.

    And I’d give Steffen the start. I’m not as enamored with Turner as some people; he’s done well, and has made few mistakes (at least, he’s made few mistake that have cost us). I thought he could have done better on the corner that led to Panama’s goal, and he flubbed a corner before that. He’s also scary when he has to play with his feet. Great shot stopper and pretty good at distribution, though.

    McKenzie looks very shaky. Time to see what Richards can do.

    I would be OK with giving Musah the start, because he was that good against Jamaica.

    Something like:
    Aaronson – Pepi – Hoppe/Weah
    McKennie – Adams – Musah/Busio
    A. Rob. – M. Rob. – Richards – Dest

    • that’s the lineup i want. Busio, Hoppe and others as subs. if it’s McKenzie at CB that’s fine too backline shouldn’t be tested much.

      we need speed and sharpness in the midfield don’t let the Costa Rica midfield get comfortable for a minute.

  16. Ives Agree that mUSAh, Weah and Acosta did not play up to standard in the Panama game. Wasn’t the real issue Lleget not being a create opportunities guy who was never going to do the job needed, and Arriola being gassed (and also not a create lots of chances on the turn player). If he wasn’t going to start Aaronson and could not start McKennie he should have risked using DLT or Busio.

    For this game he is not limited by his overthinking it and should be able to use his more creative players.

    The last game was on GGG. Everyone could see it was wrong and by playing Acosta and Lleget the full 90, either he could not or would not fix the problem. Isn’t that the definition of coaching? If he continues to make mistakes he is not good enough.

    We should do better this next game with better creators. Hopefully he will play Richards and DLT to see if they are answers that he needs.

    • I mean… what was the difference between what we saw and a bunch of players who had never met and were told nothing? I didn’t see any.

      • None what so ever. Are midfield lost the game. Lleget, Acosta are not known for creating lots of chances. If you are going to start them and they are not able to play vertically, or even trap the ball well, that is not on you as a coach. It is the coach when EVERYONE can see that they are poor and you still leave them on the 90 hoping something might change.

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