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Who should the USMNT start vs. Japan?


The three-month wait to see the U.S. men’s national team back in action is almost over, and Gregg Berhalter will have his final two chances to put his team on the field before the World Cup.

The scarcity of opportunities makes the friendlies against Japan and South Korea much different than your typical friendlies, and as much as there will be a desire among USMNT fans for long looks at newer faces, the reality is Berhalter has just two matches to take a look at what his first-choice lineup looks like.

Of course, multiple injury absences will already make that an impossibility, with Zack Steffen, Antonee Robinson, Yunus Musah, Chris Richards, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Tim Weah all missing the September friendlies. Those absences should allow some players to step in with the first-team regulars and make their cases not only for inclusion on the World Cup roster, but also for consideration to start at the World Cup.

What will the USMNT starting lineup look like against Japan? Here is a look at the options available, and the lineup we could see on Friday:

USMNT roster for September friendlies

GOALKEEPERS (3): Ethan Horvath (Luton Town/ENG; 8/0), Sean Johnson (New York City FC; 10/0), Matt Turner (Arsenal/ENG; 18/0)

DEFENDERS (9): Reggie Cannon (Boavista/POR; 27/1), Sergiño Dest (AC Milan/ITA; 17/2), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls; 27/3), Mark McKenzie (Genk/BEL; 8/0), Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes/FRA; 4/0), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER; 2/0), Sam Vines (Royal Antwerp/BEL; 8/1), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami; 74/0), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC; 31/3)

MIDFIELDERS (6): Kellyn Acosta (LAFC; 52/2), Tyler Adams (Leeds United/ENG; 30/1), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional/BRA; 3/0), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo/ESP; 11/0), Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA; 35/9), Malik Tillman (Rangers/SCO; 2/0)

FORWARDS (8): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United/ENG; 22/6), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas; 47/10), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas; 13/7), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders; 48/11), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen/NED; 11/3), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG; 51/21), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER; 12/4), Josh Sargent (Norwich City/ENG; 19/3)

USMNT Projected XI vs. Japan

SBI Preferred XI vs. Japan


Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Who will start – Matt Turner

Who should start – Matt Turner

The fact Turner isn’t playing regularly for Arsenal shouldn’t keep him from starting against Japan, and Berhalter could wind up giving Turner both starts in September to help keep him sharp. That being said, there is a case to be made for giving Sean Johnson or Ethan Horvath a game, but even if that happens, it seems unlikely to be the Japan match.


Who will start – Reggie Cannon, Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Sergiño Dest

Who should start – Sergiño Dest, Walker Zimmerman, Aaron Long, Sam Vines

Sergino Dest has earned some minutes off the bench for AC Milan, but his lack of recent starts shouldn’t keep him out of Berhalter’s first-choice defense. The question is whether he’ll deploy at his natural right back or at left back, where Antonee Robinson’s absence leaves a big void.

Reggie Cannon is arguably the best pure defender among the right back options so he should get the nod if Dest is deployed on the left side, but if Dest stays at his natural right back position then the in-form Sam Vines deserves a look.

In central defense, the Walker Zimmerman-Aaron Long tandem is looking more and more like Berhalter’s tandem for Qatar, and the injury absences of Cameron Carter-Vickers and Chris Richards may make it even more likely that pairing gets two starts in September.

While that may be the case, there is a good argument for Mark McKenzie meriting a look. He is in outstanding form in the Belgian league, re-establishing himself as a regular starter and currently one of the best defenders in Belgium.


Who will start – Weston McKennie, Kellyn Acosta, Tyler Adams

Who should start – Weston McKennie, Brenden Aaronson, Tyler Adams

The absence of Yunus Musah should mean a chance to see Brenden Aaronson in his preferred central midfield role, but that could depend on whether Berhalter is ready to give Gio Reyna a starting nod against Japan. If Reyna doesn’t start, then Aaronson can deploy on the right wing, but if Reyna does start, then Aaronson should slot into central midfield.

You can definitely make the argument that giving Aaronson a start in central midfield should be the priority regardless of what other lineup options there are, but the reality is Aaronson is one of the USMNT’s best option in multiple positions.

If Aaronson deploys on the wing, then Berhalter is likely to go with Kellyn Acosta next to Weston McKennie. Luca De La Torre has played sparingly at Celta Vigo since arriving in the summer so it’s tough seeing him start in Musah’s place.


Who will start – Christian Pulisic, Jesus Ferreira, Brenden Aaronson

Who should start – Christian Pulisic, Jesus Ferreira, Gio Reyna

Pulisic and Ferreira should be locks to start if healthy, but the right wing remains a bit more of a mystery. Gio Reyna was eased back into a starting role by Borussia Dortmund, but is a pair of consecutive starts enough to convince Berhalter it’s okay to give Reyna a run as a starter, or will he play it save and give Reyna 30 to 45 minutes off the bench?

Given Josh Sargent’s red-hot form, could Berhalter consider finding a way to get him in the starting lineup? He can slot in either as a striker with Ferreira sliding into a different role, or with Sargent on the right wing, where he has played at times for Norwich City.

How Berhalter handles his substitutions along his forward line will be especially interesting. Not only do you have Sargent, but also Ricardo Pepi back in the field, as well as the versatile Malik Tillman, who can play on the wing or in central midfield.

What do you think of these lineup options? Which lineup would you prefer to see against Japan?

Share your thoughts below.


  1. Lois,

    Julian Green has had a bad year.

    He’s as likely to go to Qatar with the USMNT as you are to be the President of the United States. Then again…..

    Who is Sabbi?

  2. I really hope he goes Pulisic/ Sargent/ Reyna frontline, Adams/ McKennie/ Aaronson mid. I’d prefer Sargent over Jesus because Pulisic and Reyna don’t exactly have a high press defensive bite and Sargent works at least as hard has Jesus but is bigger and more physical. I think he would provide more high press coverage to compensate for Pulisic/Reyna.

    And, of course, now Sargent is finishing just as well as Jesus.

  3. i struggle with the starters exercise because i expect him to run out the regulars where you would expect them, when what i think we need, for at least one game, at certain spots, is competition on the field for the last roster spots available. vazquez vs pefok vs sargent. cohen vs frei. etc.

    otherwise, you can pretty much write the lineup card for him, something like

    dest long zimmermann cannon
    acosta adams mckennie
    reyna ferreira pulisic

    you can do that in your sleep. not too bad, but not very creative, dumb formation. if he plays dest LB he literally paid no attention to the games.

    if it was me, one of these games would be the A game and the other would be the B game. we have too many unsettled positions to try and resolve who makes the roster from practice and one or two 20 minute sub cameos around the obvious choices.

    A game
    cannon zimmermann long vines
    dest reyna pulisic aaronson

    B game
    cannon EPB mckenzie vines
    johnny acosta
    dest mckennie aaronson

    why are we bothering with horvath after The Latest Gaffe
    try dest as a wing attacker

  4. I don’t know about that first mock lineup Ives, I mean what’s the point in brining in Scally and Vines, if you’re just going to put Dest at LB anyway? It makes no sense and if done would really call into question if Greg knows what he’s doing. I feel like I have good grip on how Greg thinks and that move for me is not a sound one, where you’re basically not giving Scally or Vines the opportunity to show if they can hold up against WC level opposition in positions that they play in or have played in(scally). We need to give Scally and Vines ’90 a piece to see what they can do if we continue to have problems with injuries at that spot or if Jedi just needs a break, so no need to put Dest over there. I don”t even like the idea that we brought in 4 RB’s tbh, and I hope it’s not a thing for the final roster

  5. … start Sargent! I swear the US men’s national Team purposely tries to lose and avoids the simple fact that you play your best players regardless of circumstance in the World Cup. This has become comical

    • my beef about “club form” is starting your best NT players, period. IMO talent wins out and system is secondary, can help, but can also hurt in the wrong hands. to me club form is a rollercoaster and history shows it doesn’t consistently translate. eg wondo. you can follow the roller coaster up and down on a player like sargent, and get confused or fooled, or you can decide over 4-5 years of watching whether he’s one of your 3 best talented forwards, which shouldn’t be dramatically changing week to week.

      under club form principles, league-productive wondo and landon would be rated above dempsey and mcbride, whose club numbers were more moderate, which is nonsense. and if you look at their NT caps per goal, counter-productive.

      this nonsense came in with JK and the analytics boom. odd thing being the statisticians can explain their scouting attraction with numbers but haven’t seemed to do the actual scientific thing of following the players across to NT performance to prove the actual theory, “club form=NT form,” where history shows endless counterexamples of twellmans who put up gaudy league numbers then couldn’t score outside a january C team friendly.

      personally i think it’s lazy coaching. any idiot can read spreadsheets and box scores and resumes. takes some actual soccer savvy to watch someone play and see through the bull. this is his skill set. this is how he will work with his teammates.

      i think the argument on sargent was he could be another false 9 and show back and combine with the team well. in reality he disappeared and couldn’t be found, and he then lacks the foot speed to get on the end of hopeful balls trying to find him anyway. anyhow, for me his NT career wouldn’t be over, but it would be paused for this cycle while we go down the list and find someone who can show to ball and get on the end of balls into the box. and i still think he might be a decent winger.

      • Pefok missed an even easier chance directly in front of goal than Wondo. Why does that not matter but Wondo’s Miss does? 1 g against Honduras is greater than Wondo’s goals against Mexico and S Korea?

      • JR,

        “Why does that not matter but Wondo’s Miss does?”

        The Wondo miss I’m guessing you’re referring to was against Belgium. It wasn’t a sitter and in fact was a very difficult chance but had Wondo made it , the USMNT would have almost certainly, not 100% but almost certainly, have beaten Belgium and advanced into the next round of the World Cup. That’s a BFD.

        ” 1 g against Honduras is greater than Wondo’s goals against Mexico and S Korea?”

        That 1 goal sent the USMNT into the Nations League final.
        How vital were Wondo’s goals vs Mexico and South Korea?

        Sargent and Pefok are two very different players, who do different things and both are pretty average. No one in the World Cup is staying up at night worried to death about how to stop either one of them.

        Gio is not going to think he’s back lining up with Erling again,

        It’s a waste of time comparing the two because Gregg should take them both.

        The Wondo in this group is Ferreira.

      • Vacqui, I was pointing out IVs constantly moving bar he uses as his basis for ruling out players and whining about perceived snubs.
        I think your wrong about Ferreira. He’s fast, intelligent, versatile, defends, can take free kicks. He’ll be in Europe in January.

      • JR,

        ” IVs constantly moving bar he uses as his basis for ruling out players and whining about perceived snubs.”
        given the lack of punctuation or runon sentence structure I feel like you can get into the general area but I’m never entirely sure what Mr. Voice is getting at
        “I think your wrong about Ferreira. He’s fast, intelligent, versatile, defends, can take free kicks.”

        I’d be happy to be wrong about Ferreira but Wondo could do much of that too. In the pre WC camp for the 2014 WC , before Landon was given his empty cardboard box and his notice, Donovan said Wondo was on fire and the best player there.

        What Wondo couldn’t do is score against the “bigger teams”.

        Most of his USMNT goals came against inferior players so Ferreira hasn’t proven that he can score against the tough guys when it matters either. And I don’t believe the USMNT operates with the kind of cohesion that FC Dallas does.

        Mostly though, and I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t feel like Ferreira will be “powerful” enough, physical enough against the top teams that have fast, versatile and intelligent players too.

        ” He’ll be in Europe in January.”

        Good for him but at that point it will be too soon for 2026 and too late for Qatar so I will lose interest in him.

  6. Same MLS influence is going to continue to hamper US ‘ chance at World Cup. Where is Julian green, pefok, Sabbi, John Brooks (dude is in champions League playing against Juventus and he has MLS guys in front of him who are good players but they are not used to the level in Europe, it’s not their fault but it’s still a mistake by berhalter)

    • You honestly think Julian Green is better than the guys who will feature at CM ahead of him? The CM’s called are Weston McKennie (Juventus), Brendon Aaronson (Leeds), Tyler Adams (also Leeds), Malik Tillman (Bayern, on loan to Rangers), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo), Kellyn Acosta (LAFC), and Johnny Cardoso of Internacional in Brazil got the call to replace Valencia’s Yunus Musah when Musah was injured.

      Seriously, which of these guys would you bump to make room for Julian Green? I like Green reasonably well as a 10, less well as an 8, and not at all as a 6 – he is not a defensive mid – which means the only MLS guy called in the CM pool was Acosta, and Acosta was called as Adams’ backup at the 6.

      The only guy you could make an argument Green might – might! – be ahead of is Cardoso, and that’s only because I’ve personally never seen Cardoso play outside a few early friendlies right after the team returned from the long COVID layoff that made so little impression I literally do not remember the first thing about him. But aside from that…just don’t see who Green could remotely beat out.

      And Pefok might still be in the final roster to Qatar. I sort of expect him to be. At the end of the day Pefok, even as a fourth striker and situational player, would likely be of more use than a seventh CM or a fifth winger so at the end of the day I think Gregg probably does take him. At some point we’re going to need to bang in a header when we’re chasing a game and that’s what he does better than anyone else.

      • aaronson is overbooked — is also the backup LF. GB has already made this same mistake a previous window of having him mentally penciled in both places then one or both get hurt — and he can only be one slot. LDLT is overrated. tillman hasn’t done anything yet for the NT except flash a resume. so you named some starters and then assumed the iffy or double booked bench is better, which is easily debatable.

        the laugh out loud part is tillman even comes from the same original club as green, had the same struggles breaking in, had lower numbers on the II team, and has yet to have any breakout season anyplace else. i didn’t mind seeing him try out, but he didn’t do much for us, and on either NT history or club resume how is he better? because shiny new object?

        adams is a 6. johnny IMO is a 6. shouldn’t even be his competition.

      • IV-

        Do you really see Julian Green as better than Tillman or Luca, with what Gregg does? I don’t…see that. At all. Like I said, I do like Green a fair bit as a 10 or second striker but we hardly ever set up that way, and he gets more of a liability the deeper he slides down the field.

    • you’re telling us that if 3-4 MLS players start along side 7-8 european players, that constitutes a recipe for failure? I disagree, and honestly it’s a slap in the face to the MLSers who have been a part of this group and who have shown well when quite frankly, some of our european players haven’t, and I’m pro our players going to europe and playing in the top 5 leagues. We haven’t played any top quality, unless you call Uruguay that, so we don’t have any tape on how our players would fare consistently against that level of competition. This idea that certain players won’t be able to hold up against said competition is an insinuation and presumptive at best. How about we watch the matches before throwing narratives out there with no facts to back them up!

    • Brooks has yet to play for Benfica from what I know, meaning he hasn’t played in 4 months, so no, he doesn’t need to be on this roster bc he’s not in any game shape. I can still see a scenario where Brooks makes the final roster but right now it doesn’t make sense. I agree that Pefok should be on this roster, but I do think he ends up on the final roster for Qatar.

    • Julian Green has had a bad year.

      He’s as likely to go to Qatar with the USMNT as you are to be the President of the United States. Then again…..

      Who is Sabbi?

  7. to read some of the comments you would think they are one of the world’s elite and dominated asia. they instead finished second in their WCQ group a point behind the saudis, who we play next week. i look forward to the smell of even greater fear, even more froth, for that one. reality is they lost to oman and saudi arabia, and tied vietnam, during WCQ. reality is they rank #24, 10 slots behind us, and we arguably have underperformed.

    i would expect low-scoring and tentative. what i am looking at they play either a 4231 or 433, the former of which is fairly defensive, the latter of which is giggle inducing as team defense unless you’re italy. they don’t score much (1.2 G/g in WCQ) but also don’t allow much (0.4 G/g in WCQ, as well as keeping Brazil to 1-0 which makes that feel more real).

    your indicators will be does arriola start, can we possess, and do we take the ball to the flag and cross all day. japan does not particularly frighten me but i expect them to be hard to break down and if you hopeful-cross all night on a good defense that will trend scoreless tie.

  8. This is going to be an awesome test……as the Japanese National team A.K.A the “Samurai Blue”, ARE going to be more than a handful for the USMNT!!!! Their team HEAVILY rely on teamwork, short passing and technical excellence. Their roster boasts very few headlines names, so they rely on partnership and unity (hmmm….kinda what GB is trying to do). They have developed their kind of “Tiki-Taka” tactical system which helps them team cope with any “physically” dominant opponents, and this system relies HEAVILY on their midfield.
    Japan 2 vs China 0
    Japan 2 vs Saudi Arabia 0
    Japan 2 vs Australia 0
    Japan 1 vs Vietnam 1 0
    Japan 4 vs Paraguay 1
    Japan 0 vs Brazil 1 (yup, Neymar, Raphinha, Fred, Alves, Allison etc. played)
    Japan 4 vs Ghana 1
    Japan 0 vs Tunisia 3
    Japan 6 vs Hong Kong 0
    Japan 0 vs China 0
    Japan 3 vs South Korea 0

    Some Characteristics!!!!
    1) Their midfielders consistently backtrack and help aid the defense (Hmmm…. just like what GB is trying to accomplish), while looking to limit the opposition’s wing players and their crosses.
    2) They love to counter with overwhelming speed which is going to be a test for “speed and positioning” on our team.
    3) Their need for defensive solidity means that they do not move overwhelming numbers forward in attack……which makes them extremely tough to breakdown.
    4) They rely on quick, accurate passing to try to exploit defensive errors from open play.
    5) They use darting runs, quick ball dribbling and constant movement to draw foul calls that result to set pieces, and yes…..they’re at their most deadly from dead ball situations

    We are going to have our hands full. I just hope they bring their A-Team to really test / stretch our midfield and backline before Qatar. OOOOOOOHHHHHH YYYEEEAAAAHHHH, LLLLLLEEETTTTT GGGGGOOOOOOOOO UUUUSSSSAAAAAAAA!!!!!

    • ‘Preciate it, bizzy. Was watching some film from the Kirin Cup and they are definitely what you said…Ghana couldn’t get a touch against them, was pretty bad.

      The real question is…which one of us gets to wear their godawful blue Painting Accident jerseys?

    • your concern about countering will depend on whether we run jedi and dest out there and push them high. if we do that — as we sometimes do — they could catch us. though i have more confidence in this bunch of CBs to island defend than brooks, ream, or the like.

      otherwise they look lucky to score much.

      i would be more comfortable if we had weah.

    • Bizzy did you get a new device? We don’t get emoji’s anymore!😢
      For what it’s worth those last 3 you listed were domestic based sides for Japan and SKor, kind of like a camp cupcake so they don’t mean as much.

  9. Looking forward to both friendlies!
    Intrigued to see if the US can dictate tempo either with the ball or defending with pressing and traps. Also, if the US can hold possession and be dangerous in the final third with possession and not just in counters or transition. Possession is a concern for me! Many of the attacking players are at there best in transition with space to run at defenders and not so efficient when a defense sits in
    Exciting matches to come!


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