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Who will, and who should the USMNT start vs. El Salvador?


The U.S. men’s national team is set to kick off the new year looking to carry over the momentum from a solid start to qualifying the Americans enjoyed in 2021, and the first step in 2022 will take place on home soil against an El Salvador side they will be expected to steamroll.

Yes, the two sides played to a 0-0 draw last September in San Salvador, but there will be plenty different this time around in Columbus. For starters, it will be about 80 degrees colder, with temperatures expected to be in the single digits. Secondly, the Americans enter the match with significantly more World Cup qualifying experience than it had when the teams opened the Octagonal Round of qualifying.

The USMNT isn’t quite at full strength, with Zack Steffen now potentially sidelined by back stiffness and Gio Reyna still working his way back from the injury issues that have kept him out since his appearance in the first USMNT Octagonal meeting against El Salvador last September.

Despite those absences, the Americans will still feature a very strong lineup on Thursday, led by a rock solid midfield trio of Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah and Tyler Adams, as well as the expected return to the starting lineup of Christian Pulisic, who last started for the USMNT in the September qualifying win against Honduras.

One question surrounding Berhalter’s selections will be how he handles players currently not in season. Projected centerback starters Walker Zimmerman and Miles Robinson are not in season, as MLS is still a month away from returning to action, so Berhalter could choose to go with Chris Richards in one of the centerback spots due to Richards being in form and in season with Hoffenheim.

With all that in mind, here is a look at the lineup we could see the USMNT deploy against El Salvador on Thursday, and the lineup SBI would like to see:

Projected USMNT Lineup vs. El Salvador

SBI’s Preferred USMNT lineup vs. El Salvador


Who will start: Matt Turner

Who should start: Matt Turner

Zack Steffen is dealing with back tightness that has delayed his arrival in camp, making it very likely Turner gets the nod against El Salvador on Thursday. Turner posted a shutout against El Salvador last September and should be up for the challenge, even though he is currently not in season.


Who will start: Sergiño Dest, Miles Robinson, Walker Zimmerman, Antonee Robinson

Who should start: Sergiño Dest, Miles Robinson, Chris Richards, Antonee Robinson

Dest and Robinson are safe bets, even with Dest seeing sparse playing time for Barcelona over the past month, which leaves central defense where the biggest question lingers. Chris Richards is in season and playing well, and should be plugged into one of the starting spots, but will Berhalter give him the nod over Zimmerman and Robinson given how well they have played together?

Given El Salvador’s lack of aerial threats, and quick attack, a Richards-Robinson tandem would make the most sense, but Berhalter could find it difficult to sit Zimmerman and leave his leadership out of the lineup.


Who will start: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah

Who should start: Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah

Berhalter has to be overjoyed at the fact his preferred midfield trio enters the upcoming qualifiers in top form. There isn’t much to debate regarding who starts in the middle, and after Berhalter hinted at some players starting in all three upcoming qualifiers, you get the feeling these three could be in for a busy week.


Who will start: Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi, Christian Pulisic

Who should start: Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi, Christian Pulisic

Pulisic may not be seeing as many minutes as he would like in recent weeks for Chelsea, but he slides right back into the starting lineup for the first time since September, while Aaronson is another easy call even though his club team isn’t currently in season. His fitness levels are among the best in the group, so having his engine in the lineup to try and frustrate El Salvador will be crucial.

As for striker, Pepi recently joined Augsburg in the German Bundesliga and has already played his way into the starting lineup.

The good news for Berhalter is he has some veteran options to bring off the bench for a change of pace in Gyasi Zardes, Paul Arriola and Jordan Morris, though all three are out of season, making them less attractive as starting options.

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

Share your thoughts below


  1. Question for everyone trotting out the strongest line-up possible for El Ssalvador:

    How would you handle line-up rotation for this window? I think talking about this line-up cannot be done without speaking to this. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a more mixed squad – say a A- looking type squad with a few “fan favorites” sprinkled in.

    • what i learned about tournament soccer as a kid was you take your first 3 pt game with a vengeance with your starters, while you have them healthy and in this case a vulnerable ES opponent. you don’t risk a tie or loss playing any short. bank the 3 pts and increase your table cushion. you then assess how much resources to risk on canada away before the honduras home game, which should again have a strong team to secure those 3 pts. if you rotate or rest, you do so from a position of strength, ie, already sitting on points. risking the first to chase the second strikes me as backwards.

      i would rotate if we won the first game because based on their numbers ES and honduras should get attacked while Canada we want to bottle up and counter.

      i am stunned GB fields a roster without Pefok (Honduras) or Moore (Canada) after this summer. i get curious if he actually watches the games sometimes. he doesn’t come across like a coach who notices, say, who actually played well against bosnia (not lennon), who helped him win games against these same teams before, or whether we have enough 9-power rostered. one reason i would chase ES and honduras, at this point, is he has one good 9 rostered, unless he moves pulisic or morris. so you need to use pepi thoughtfully so we have someone to score on honduras.

    • Master of Obvious- Such a vague question. Whether it’s SBI projected or preferred, I’ll be excited about both starting lineups. If you start Miles & Richards vs ES than Miles & Zimm starts vs Canada, w/ Richards & Zimm vs Honduras. Weah is CP’s backup all 3 matches. Morris & Arriola rotate subbing for BA. Morris vs ES. Arriola vs Canada. Who’s ever is healthiest starts vs Hon. Zardes subs for Pepi vs ES & Canada. Jesus subs in @ the 9 vs Hon. I would like to see LDT sub in for Musah vs ES. Jesus for Musah vs Canada. He’s a better midfielder than winger/CF. LDT starts LM vs Hon., & is subbed out for Lleget. Captain Adams starts vs ES & Canada. Acosta subs for Canada & starts @ the 6 vs Hon. (I’m still not convinced GB sees Acosta as a 6. ‘21 GC & Panama away loss are Acosta’ minutes at the 6.) Jedi starts vs ES & Canada at LB. Richards is backup LB vs Canada. Dest starts at LB vs Hon. Jedi is his sub. vs Hon. Dest starts at RB vs ES & Canada sub Yedlin in ES. Cannon subs in Canada at RB. Yedlin starts at Hon. at RB. Cannon is Yedlin’s backup. Lennon, Roldan, McKenzie, Sean Johnson are injury insurance. I don’t believe in calling field players, and not playing them. Snapshot of what I would do with the roster that was called in. Let’s go USA!

  2. aaronson pulisic weah
    mckennie adams musah
    richards miles zimmermann cannon

    you go through the exercise and you get cranky about his wingback choices

    not normally a 433 fan but ES struggles to score so be as aggressive as you want at home.

    • A. Robinson at left back over Richards. For the very reason you cite; ES shouldn’t be much of a threat so let’s attack. That’s A Rob’s strength.

      • Richards is a LCB, let him stay there and continue to get the reps at “his” position because his upside and talent will continue to develop him into a top player internationally and at club level. No need to get cute, or to over think playing players at their positions, this is the second to last window and we need to maximize our chemistry and output before we head into the last window, which will prove to be the most difficult.

      • I want a line of quality marking defenders ES can’t possibly break. The front 6 can handle the attacking.

        One thing people need to consider when talking about how x is a kid, is almost everyone is, and they are going to come along together, and be followed by further iterations of talented kids. It’s true some may find their traction with time, but this is not the usual scenario with some 30 year olds and some late 20s and you wait your turn. You fall behind now and you may never catch up. And more kids may come in after and try to bump you even further back.

        For example, yes, Richards is just 21, but only 2 backs are over 25. Miles is 24. You have Che and Scally coming up as teens. The old farts like Ream and Brooks have played their way off the team. You need to get your own stuff together because most of the competition will be kids just like you. This is not some normal MNT with half the team around 30, just under or over. I think everyone could play a whole ‘nother cycle. The normal waiting game doesn’t apply. You’re “waiting” behind someone your age or younger. That’s sink or swim because they are never going to magically be old farts when you aren’t too.

      • Pulisic’s production as a 9 is also pretty underwhelming. Although Erik Zavaletta isn’t exactly an EPL quality CB.

      • JR: what are you talking about? it’s his most productive club position this year. bear in mind the choice is pepi or pulisic, or we play zardes or ferreira. so it’s all relative. ie productive relative to them. or maybe we could try morris. particularly with the summer history i am at a loss how pefok isn’t around for at least honduras. i just really don’t like the distinct possibility we go into a game with canada or honduras starting zardes or ferreira.

      • IV: I actually watch the matches, he’s played more matches as #9 that’s why his numbers are modestly better. But when you watch him play there instead of on the wing you see what a waste it is.
        Pefok just stands in the middle and gets in Pulisic, Weah or Aaronson’s why. Ferreira can drop in and thread the ball to the wings running into the space he created. The reason Pepi is in Germany is Ferreira got him the ball in position to score. Defenses have to honor Gyasi’s runs which opens the lanes for CP to drive. Do you want Cp with ball running at goal or do you want to loft hopeful balls to Pefok. I don’t remember having much trouble scoring in Honduras without Pefok, at least after we got out of the weird 3-4-3 formation.

      • you can snob critique him compared to EPL or world elite but my response is, would he be more effective at 9 than ferreira or zardes. that’s the actual US roster question as opposed to mapping out his place at chelsea and among the global pantheon.

        pefok only beat honduras in NL. methinks you, who supposedly “watches the games closely,” forget what the score was at half time last encounter. that game would not be my template.

        zardes wastes more than he creates and is begging to be the next “wondo” who misses a key sitter. and in terms of his runs, i think my men’s league runs had more curve and sophistication than him running straight upfield. weah and morris can supply the same speed element with more sophistication and polish on the ball. i want someone at 9 who if he has 1 good chance come his way might actually finish it.

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