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


Thursday’s 2-0 win against Jamaica was the best performance by the U.S. men’s national team in World Cup qualifying so far, but that doesn’t mean we might not see a shakeup to the lineup Gregg Berhalter deploys on Sunday against Panama.

For starters, Weston McKennie and Antonee Robinson aren’t in Panama with the team, with McKennie skipping the match with a thigh strain, and Robinson heading straight to Columbus, Ohio ahead of the qualifier against Costa Rica in order to avoid any COVID-quarantine complications back in the UK with Fulham.

That means we will see at least two changes to the lineup, but there is a good chance there will be a few more as Berhalter looks to deploy a fresh squad to face a veteran Panama side that could be feeling the effects of a heavy workload brought on by its lack of squad rotation.

The Panamanians have had nine of its player start all four of their qualifiers so far, and there is a good chance most of those veterans will start again on Sunday. Berhalter noted on Sunday that he believes that continuity will give the Central Americans an advantage against his younger and more well-rotated squad, but he reality is the USMNT could be poised to capitalize on a tiring Canalero squad.

What Panama does have is an abundance of experience, and that is something that could lead Berhalter to try and play some more veterans on Sunday than we saw against Jamaica.

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

Projected USMNT Lineup vs. Panama

SBI’s preferred USMNT lineup vs. Panama


Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos

Who will start: Matt Turner

Who should start: Matt Turner

Even if Zack Steffen were available, there would be no debate about Turner getting the call. With Steffen not in Panama, Turner is the biggest lock to start on the squad.


Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos

Who will start: Shaq Moore, Miles Robinson, Walker Zimmerman, Sergiño Dest

Who should start: DeAndre Yedlin, Miles Robinson, Mark McKenzie, Sergiño Dest

If Dest is healthy, and recovered from whatever had him hobbling off late in the Jamaica match, then he should get the call at left back, where he has had a steady run of good performances for FC Barcelona. If Dest is still hobbled, then Berhalter could be forced to turn to youngster George Bello.

The right back spot will fall to either Yedlin or Moore. Yedlin wasn’t in uniform for the Jamaica match, which could be taken as Berhalter resting him for a planned start, or the reality that he’s the third right back option. Moore has one advantage in that he is familiar with facing Panamanian left back Jose Rodriguez, who plays in the Spanish second division like Moore does. That said, Yedlin has much more USMNT experience, and came into the October qualifiers on a steady run as the starting right back for Galatasaray.

Centerback will be Miles Robinson in one spot, but who plays next to him? Walker Zimmerman was excellent against Jamaica, and has the physical strength to deal with Panamanian striker Rolando Blackburn, who is nicknamed ‘The Bull’ for a reason.

But what if Berhalter wants to rotate his squad? Mark McKenzie started and fared well against Honduras in September, and could very well get the nod. Chris Richards is looking more and more like a candidate for minutes against Costa Rica.


Photo John Dorton/ISI Photos

Who will start: Tyler Adams, Kellyn Acosta, Gianluca Busio

Who should start: Tyler Adams, Kellyn Acosta, Yunus Musah

Adams is the safest bet to make it five straight starts, and his bite and toughness will be needed against a physical Panama squad. The same can be said for Acosta, who will come in rested, having just played seven minutes against Jamaica.

That leaves the biggest question being whether Berhalter sticks with Yunus Musah again after his outstanding showing against Jamaica, or do we see someone like Gianluca Busio, who wasn’t in uniform on Thursday? Luca De La Torre replaced Musah for the final 13 minutes on Thursday and looked steady, but will Berhalter really pass on Busio, who came into the October qualifiers in excellent form for Venezia?

Busio has been in good form, and if Berhalter is going to rotate his midfield, then having Musah sit for this one and be rested to face Costa Rica could be the best move, if Berhalter agrees that Busio is in good form and ready for his first taste of World Cup qualifying.


Photo by John Todd/ISI Photos

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

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

Pepi and Aaronson should be locks to start, though Berhalter’s recent comments about Pepi’s heavy workload make you wonder if he might give him a rest here and go with a veteran like Zardes, who is all too familiar with battles in Concacaf.

Paul Arriola did a very good job against Jamaica, but his relentless 90-minute shift didn’t leave much in the tank for another start three days later. The best candidate to replace him is Weah, who looked very dangerous off the bench. The Lille speedster is in excellent form and should get the nod.

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

Share your thoughts below


  1. 4-3-3
    LW- Weah (10x more effective on the left), Pepi, BA (have you noticed most matches, he always ends in right half space, CR friendly, WCQ v Jamaica etc. It’s his instinct!! Not coaching) LM- LDT, 6-Adams, RM- Musah, (both mid’s like to push the defense, by running, passing, or positioning. Musah is far better as a Right mid, than left, LDT passing is better than Musah & Lletget) LB-Bello, CBs- M. Robinson, Richards (don’t know how true the rumor is, but Hoffenheim wants him back after Panama match. If true, he has to start vs Panama. Won’t be there for CR). RB- Yedlin with Turner GK. So to clarify…
    Weah, Pepi, BA
    LDT, Adams, Musah
    Bello, M.Robinson, Richards, Yedlin
    Subs- ‘70- LW- Hoppe (Weah moves to RW), Lletget (LDT), ‘80-LB/RB- Moore (which ever fullback tires 1st), Acosta (Adams), Roldan (Weah)

    • I think this suffers from using Musah, Adams and Aaronson who worked really hard during the Jamaica game. The US has some depth, Use it!

      • I got 5 diff starters & 5 players who didn’t play in the Jamaica match. I don’t think, it’s a hardship because I have a diff XI for CR. We’ll see what GB does?

  2. I would keep Robinson and Zimmerman in the center of the defense (they need to get more time together, plus they couldn’t be very tired after the Jamaica game) as well as Turner in goal and Aaranson up front. Other than that, rest all Jamaica starters. Defnitely need Hoppe in a game like an away match against Panama — he can put a lot of pressure on their defense.

  3. I am so surprised that all the pundits are making two or three changes to the starting 11 and acting like it’s a dramatic change. I guess my idea of a complete new starting 10 field players is radical, but it just seems like common sense to me. The schedule and travel is so brutal, we don’t want to send more of our top players back injured (Pulisic/Reyna), that does not help us in the long run! Also, we seemingly have a huge advantage in depth, but only if we actually use it! A lineup with fresh players, mostly veterans, such as Acosta, Zardes, Yedlin, Lletget, Roldan, then add some fresh young talent like Weah, Hoppe, Bello and there you have a fresh team that is still more talented than the team we face. Biggest benefit will be coming home to play CR and being able to field your best team and best performers without much concern regarding fatigue/minutes. Common sense…

    • I agree. Not only will resting some players have them ready for Costa Rica, you will also see how good (or bad) the other players can be, a bit of a luxury in qualifying.

  4. Not sure why my posts show up for a little while after posting but then disappear. If anyone has any insights, please share. It would be nice if I could contribute to the forum.

    Anyway, in terms of player selection for the Panama match I would go in a different direction, with massive resting of key players like Adams, Dest, Aaronson, Pepi, Musah. Save them for Costa Rica.

    I believe its a strategic imperative to have a longer-term vision that extends beyond just this cycle. This is important in terms of accumulating wear and tear, especially for Adams, Dest, Weah, Mckennie, and Aaronson (players on this cycle’s roster) whose clubs also have CL matches in addition to their regular league schedule. Fatigue occurring now can embed in muscles and joints and tendons and cause injuries and/or significant drops in fitness/form down the road.

    Balancing act to be sure but deep rosters, rotation, and patience/long-term vision are key.

    With that in mind, I would think about value of putting out on the field (a potentially soggy field at that) a roster filled with personnel and tactical changes, while taking a tactically conservative approach (think Gold Cup):

    Arriola Lletget Roldan

    Bello Yedlin
    Robinson Zimmerman Richards

    Weah on for Arriola @ 60-65 minute mark
    Zardes on for Hoppe @ 60-65 minute mark

    Let Arriola and Hoppe tire out Panamanian defenders through relentless pressure.

    Other substitutions dependent on how game unfolds.

  5. I can’t understand how Ives has just ignored some good players here. Hoppe definitely needs to get strong consideration and Weah needs to start. I would play Zardes just to give Pepi some rest, then bring Pepi on in the second half. Also, why doesn’t Lletget get even a mention here? I’d pick him and
    Acosta and then add either De La Torre or Busio. It’s not that I don’t like Musah or Adams, quite the contrary. But I think we can get through this game fine and give them some rest. For the back I really don’t like McKenbzie so I’d go with Robinson and Richards in the CB roles. Richards has been playing well in the Bundesliga I don’t see how you can ignore him. Move Dest to LB and I much prefer Yedlin to Moore at RB.

    • It is a nice problem to have more than 10 good field players, isn’t it!! I think his lineup is based on the assumption that everyone jas 180 minuyes left in their tank, but I dont think that is the case.

  6. I still think that the US has the best depth in CONCACAF, save Mexico. We should use it! At least 5 players available Sunday exerted a lot of energy vs Jamaica; Dest, Adams, Musah, Ariola and Aaronson. They should be rested or used as subs or for planned early substitutions. That means Hoppe, Zardes, Weah, Lletget, Acosta, Busio, Bello, Yedlin and Moore should all be considered for starting spots or at least 30 minutes as subs.

    With Zardes, Acosta, Lletget and Yedlin, there is no shortage of experience to stand up to physical play, I would use Pepi as an early sub to take advantage of tired legs.

    Zimmerman and M. Robinson were hardly taxed vs Jamaica so they can remain in place, but Richards or McKenzie cold get a start.

  7. If the field/weather are going to turn this into a mudder game than I would expect we’ll see a heavier MLS line-up of:
    2nd Half if we’re up substitutions will be later with instructions to eat the time. In this case Arriola will be the 1st entry for Aaronson.
    If we’re down than we’ll see Musah, Bucio & Pepi enter the game to speed up the tempo and add attacking threats. Arriola will replace Aaronson an push Weah to the other side.

      • i’d be fine with moore at RB. if it’s yedlin or dest then i think y’all are the ones being naive. i’d rather have a solid back eg adams and then moore fresh for costa rica home. none of y’all seem to be considering the minutes you’re putting on people chasing rare road points. or that they can’t defend for a road game.

    • Is this what you think or what you want? If the latter, why do you want Adams at fullback? I think he will play a 5-3-2 the first half with a lot of defending and look to change at halftime with subs if losing or tied. Could be a Hondorus like 1st half if he does …

      • I think Gregg realizes how epically bad the 5 man back line was in Honduras and won’t try to replicate that. I’ll agree that we’ll probably play more conservative in the first half and will pick out spots to high press.

    • JonnyR: epically bad is probably too generous. Doh!! The reason I think he will go with 5 is to give Richards the start with some cover until he can find the game. This would be his first qualifier let alone on the road and he doesn’t have a lot of caps nor experience playing with these players. Some game has to be your first so I may be reading too much into it. Gregg probably has more confidence in all the players he brought in than most of us do. 3 games in 7 days just makes it tough. We will know shortly.

    • When they redid the stadium they installed hybrid turf so it’s partially artificial grass with actual grass growing down thru the synthetic. They also redid the drainage. So it should at least be better than most Central American fields. Azteca was in bad shape Thursday as was the one in El Salvador.

      • Good to know, thx. The ES-Panama game in San Salvador was a slop-fest. Through ball into space? Stops dead in a puddle…

      • his comments are per usual misleading. far as i am concerned it’s roll-out-sod atop astroturf and looks to play heavy and slow like when we play on roll out grass in tournaments like gold cup or copa america 2016. a mfr of similar fields describes them as “appearing green” in high traffic areas — as, duh, there is turf below the grass. i hate the idea of this, it will probably drain and “look the part” better but feels like aesthetics over common sense where you run through the grass in your moldeds or studs then the “turf monster” grabs you underneath. knee injury waiting to happen. re “mudder,”i wouldn’t be concerned about mud per se — since the sod separates from the soil by a turf layer — but with grass not connected through to the ground beneath the turf, and abundant rain, i would be concerned about the laid sod becoming a torn up mess and then having the turf monster underneath in places, with a potentially different texture. the whole point to the “looks green when torn up” would be that’s turf poking through. not sure if i’d be comfortable with some turf/grass transitions if the sod is torn up, or with a surface where you’re kind of running through grass and then the turf monster grabs. way i tore up my knee was defending on a drought-dried grass field where i shifted sideways and then suddenly the studs caught but the knee wanted to keep going. hate the idea — would keep knee-injured players off it — and notice we came up with a (dated) excuse for steffen to skip it. i’d play sturdy younger players with no history of bad joint injuries. which, well, not quite mudders but in the neighborhood.

        i’d also expect the field to play slow like roll-out sod does. wetness you’d normally expect it to slide faster but this i’m think will stay slow. the whole point to this field is to seem like grass but drain and not become a bog. so, you know, the infamous quali goal EJ scored in seattle where the chip in front of him instead of skipping away just literally splats to a stop in his path, kind of thing.

      • IV: it was put down I think in July so it may not be great but better play wise than the mud pit you would get with just grass under the predicted conditions. I’m not sure which design they used but most are predominantly grass with just enough synthetic for the grass’ roots to attach to. Should be safer than pure turf or as you described the water logged pitch that unexpectedly gives way. It looked in pretty good shape in the walk thru videos today. 1000 times better than Couvo.

    • By the way IV it is nothing like sod laid over turf. It’s actually a pretty interesting process, go on YouTube and search Hybrid turf it’s kind of interesting.

      • i watched videos. they were laying patches of sod over a turf surface laid atop dirt and a black barrier like what my wife uses to garden. that sod is then supposed to somehow “root” down through it all. good luck. it’s a permanent version of roll out sod. the issue is not how it reacts in a walk through, it’s when you’re full speed and cut or tackle, or find a seam or where turf shows through. all due respect but i once watched wes welker tear a knee ligament untouched when he stepped in a seam in NRG’s roll-out palletized sod. i lack your faith and it’s pretty sad to not think about the players to be contrarian to anything i say.

    • I watched the Pan. Vs Mex from Sept. definitely some spots where the grass didn’t take mostly on the near side. It rained some during the match and the field held up well. The forecast I saw was for just under an inch of rain with it raining almost all day so likely not hard at any point. Ball appeared to roll well even on the spots that didn’t look good on TV.

      • make up your mind whether it’s an engineering marvel or has holes and stuff.

        my point that you refuse to consider is when i stride in a torn up part of a grass field it’s usually dirt and mud which gives, not turf that may catch. to me bad things happen when the surface is “grabby,” has “seams,” or has mixed response.

        my whole point was i expect it to drain well, and not be a mud pit — that’s why they or swansea buy this sort of thing — but to question whether the surface while retaining “greenness” and “grass” for aesthetic purposes might have many of the bad sides of turf and/or mixed response. “mixed response” to me is bad because last thing you want is a surface that starts to let you slide then yanks you to a stop.

  8. I think Pepi does not start this game. but starts against Costa Rica. Panama too Physical for Busio. busio and Richards start or get to play against Costa Rica.

    • I think Pepi starts this one since he came out early. Weah and Aaronson ate CR for lunch in June so you can bring Ricardo off the bench if needed in that one. Busio has been playing in a physical league and I think has built some resilience. If Panama sits back Busio as the 8 would be good, not sure they will to start at least.

  9. Neither lineup would leave a lot of fresh players for Costa Rica. I expect him to try to shorten the game against Panama by focusing the first half on defending. The field will likely be awful and it is hard to play 3 games in 7 days so I am predicting he goes with the following looking to sub in Aaronson, Pepi, and Musah and change formation if losing or tied at halftime.





    • To expand, basically attacking with 4 at the most. If Busio goes Acosta stays and vice versa with the wing backs not pushing forward.


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