Trying to construct a U.S. men’s national team lineup without Christian Pulisic, Gio Reyna and John Brooks would have been a scary proposition heading into World Cup qualifying just a month ago, but while it certainly isn’t ideal to be missing such key figures, Gregg Berhalter has some very talented youngsters to turn to.
The Americans will be taking on Jamaica on Thursday, and as much as the Reggae Boyz had a disappointing set of results in September’s qualifiers, they showed enough toward the end of the September window to suggest they will be a tougher obstacle in October.
The good news for the USMNT is that Jamaican winger Leon Bailey will miss the October qualifiers, but the bad news for the Americans is that West Ham striker Michail Antonio is on the squad, and will spearhead an attack that will look to capitalize on a very young American defensive nucleus.
The absences of Brooks and Tim Ream have left the Americans without a single central defender with World Cup qualifying experience prior to last month, though Miles Robinson’s excellent form should ensure one of the two centerback spots is rock solid.
The attack has some real question marks, with Berhalter facing the daunting task of trying to make up for the absence of Pulisic and Reyna, the two most dangerous attacking weapons in the USMNT arsenal. There are some in-form options though, with Brenden Aaronson and Tim Weah coming in playing very well for their clubs.
Berhalter has stressed the importance of improving the team’s verticality, citing a lack of a speed threat to get in behind opposing defenses in September. Aaronson and Weah can help with that, as could Ricardo Pepi at striker, while Matthew Hoppe and Paul Arriola give Berhalter some variety in his wing options.
Something else for Berhalter to consider is how he spreads out minutes in the October window. We saw Miles Robinson, Tyler Adams and Matt Turner play every minute of the September qualifiers, and it feels unlikely that we will see that repeated as Berhalter works to keep his team fresh by utilizing his entire roster for starting options.
With all that in mind, here is a look at the lineup we could see the USMNT deploy against Jamaica on Thursday:
Projected USMNT Lineup vs. Jamaica
SBI’s preferred USMNT lineup vs. Jamaica
Who will start: Matt Turner
Who should start: Matt Turner
There feels like a chance Berhalter could turn to Zack Steffen, especially given the fact Steffen won’t be available for the Panama qualifier, but the better bet will be to have Turner start the Jamaica match and Panama match, with Steffen being in line to start against Costa Rica in Columbus.
Who will start: Sergiño Dest, Miles Robinson, Mark McKenzie, Antonee Robinson
Who should start: Sergiño Dest, Miles Robinson, Chris Richards, Antonee Robinson
Antonee Robinson’s excellent play in the September qualifiers should lock him in as the starting left back against Jamaica, with Sergiño Dest starting at right back before moving over to left back for the Panama match. DeAndre Yedlin a good bet to start at right back in Panama if that scenario plays out.
Centerback is a much tougher puzzle to solve, with Miles Robinson the sure bet in the middle. There is a three-way race for the central defender spot next to Robinson, and Mark McKenzie feels like the safe bet given he just started for the USMNT in a road qualifier in Honduras.
Chris Richards is the wild card though. He only has three caps and hasn’t played in an official competition yet, but he is starting regularly with Hoffenheim and enters in good form, whereas McKenzie has been struggling for consistent minutes with Genk. It would also make more sense to start McKenzie or Walker Zimmerman in Panama, though if Richards is dominant against Jamaica, he could make a case to remain the starter next to Miles Robinson.
Who will start: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Sebastian Lletget
Who should start: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Gianluca Busio
Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie are locks to start if healthy, so the only real question is who slots into the other central midfield role. Sebastian Lletget and Kellyn Acosta are good candidates for the spot, but both would be better suited to start in Panama. Lletget makes the most sense as the USMNT looks to attack at home against a Jamaica side that should surrender chances if Lletget and the midfield can create chances.
Gianluca Busio is one to consider, given how excellently he has been playing for Venezia, and given the fact he started and held his own against Jamaica in the Gold Cup, at a time when he wasn’t in nearly as good form as he is now.
Lletget would likely be the better option to bring off the bench and make an impact, like he did against Honduras.
Who will start: Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi, Tim Weah
Who should start: Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi, Tim Weah
When you factor in form, and Berhalter’s desire for more verticality, it’s tough to see anyone else starting besides this young trio. Yes, Zardes and Arriola have an experience edge, but they would be better suited for the physical battle awaiting in Panama.
Tim Weah should also be an easy call to start given his excellent form for Lille. Only an injury kept him out of the September qualifiers, and he has the very qualities Berhalter is looking for in his attack, between his speed and ability to press.
What do you think of the projected starting lineup options? Which lineup would you go with?
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