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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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