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
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.
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.
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.
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