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On USMNT: Three options to complete the midfield vs. Mexico

When Gregg Berhalter pieces together his U.S. men’s national team starting lineup he will have some tough decisions to make, and one of the toughest just might be in the middle of the field.

Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams head into November’s World Cup qualifiers in top form, and are two of the first names to be included on the lineup sheet, but choosing who will join them in the USMNT’s three-man midfield is a bit tougher to settle on.

That would have sounded like crazy talk a month ago, after Yunus Musah delivered an outstanding starting performance in the win against Costa Rica, but things haven’t gone according to plan for the young midfielder, who has been struggling for minutes with Valencia over the past month.

That could open the door for some other options to step into the midfield spot alongside McKennie and Adams. Sebastian Lletget and Kellyn Acosta feel like longshots to fill the role, particularly given their lackluster performances in the October loss to Panama, while Cristian Roldan is more likely to offer wing depth in the November window.

Here is a closer look at Berhalter’s leading options for the central midfield role next to McKennie and Adams:

Yunus Musah

The 18-year-old Musah was incredible in the win against Costa Rica, and memories of that performance just might help Berhalte overlook the fact he has seen little playing time with Valencia over the past month. His strength on the ball, ability to drive the attack and his passing eye make him a very appealing option despite his potential lack of match fitness.

Mexico’s midfield is stacked though, and will give the USMNT a much tougher challenge than Costa Rica did. Berhalter could decide to bring Musah off the bench to help see out a win or potentially spark a comeback. Also note that just because Musah doesn’t start against Mexico doesn’t mean he couldn’t be used instead to start against Jamaica four days later.

Gianluca Busio

Busio also impressed against Costa Rica, albeit in a cameo appearance, but in the month since then Busio has racked up the starts and strong outings for Venezia, making him a good candidate to start against Mexico.

Busio has faced El Tri before, coming off the bench to deliver a good shift to close out the USMNT’s Gold Cup final win last summer. In the three months since then, Busio has only sharpened his game more becoming a regular starter in Serie A.

Brenden Aaronson

The popular consensus heading into the November qualifiers is that Aaronson would be deployed on the wing, where he has enjoyed considerable success for the USMNT, but with Christian Pulisic back, Berhalter could consider playing Aaronson in a central role, where he could help pressure Mexico’s playmakers.

All signs point to Berhalter emphasizing his team’s pressing game, and if he wants to put out a lineup with speed all over the field, then Aaronson in a central role and someone like Tim Weah out wide could give the Americans a very dynamic lineup to try and press El Tri effectively, much the way Canada did in its October draw against El Tri at Estadio Azteca.

Who do you think should start in central midfield next to McKennie and Aaronson?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Musah is the guy. Aaronson plays centrally but underneath 2 strikers at Salzburg, it’s different. But Brenden can go all 90+ barring something ugly from Mexico, and on that you never know tough Tata has them playing a cleaner brand of soccer. No way CP goes 90 but I don’t thing it’s Brenden who sees his minutes shortened on the wing to get CP his minutes. This lets Busio impact sub off the bench and gives GB some flexibility with Aaronson

  2. Wow. what a GREAT problem to have! Usually its “pick the lesser of two evils” but this is dope to have a midfield this stacked. I kinda lean to Aaronson starting and Musuh being the sparkplug off the bench.

  3. We have 4 really dynamic, young midfielders. Good problem to have. Aaronson didn’t look great in the midfield before and I do not see how Pulsic can go a full 90. So start Aaronson on the wing and bring in Pulsic with 30 or so minutes to go. I think we will need more grit in the midfield so I’d start Musah over Busio but I wouldn’t complain if it’s the other way around.

  4. If the thought is GB wants to press Mexico, then Aaronson in the middle makes sense. Also, while I am not a fan of Ariola, he and Weah could start as a wing and CF respectively. That leaves Pulisic if he is good to start, if not Ariola and Weah on the wings and Pepi at CF. Any of those maximizes pressing by the front line and mids.

    Still, I expect it will be Adams, McKennie and Busio in the midfield, Aaronson and Pulisic/Weah as wings and Pepi up top.

    The back line is most likely the 2 Robinsons, Richards and either Yedlin or Scally.

    • I was thinking the very same thing – if pressing is the game plan Aaronson in the middle would be a good move and yes, even though heads will explode, Ariola as a winger would create havoc for Mexico. I honestly don’t know what Weah or Pepi offer in the pressing game area but it is important that the front line of a pressing team are in sync or else there will be holes that a team like Mexico can exploit and result in putting the back line under pressure with one v ones coming at them with pace – especially if the idea is to play higher in the back this could spell trouble. So that CF needs to be aware of their pressing duties whoever it is.

  5. Lot of pressure to heap on young Pepi, a home game against el tri, where points are pretty essential. Just missed a PK over the weekend, and didn’t show much in the game. That’s a bad omen. Coach can break this by starting Pepinho on the bench. This will play into that verticality approach, by putting weah at the tip of the spear. We can play arronson and Arriola wide, and create some good high pressure, and look for some good counter opportunities. If Mexico is going to attack, and we know they are, we need to be able to counter attack. Our subs are going to be as important as who starts, not bad to have a Christian or Ricardo coming off the bench.

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  6. MBA in the midfield, tri-attack: Weah-Pepi-Aaronson, Scally and Robinson on the flanks and Miles with Zimmermann in middle.

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