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Who will, and who should the USMNT start vs. Saudi Arabia?

The U.S. men’s national team’s performance against Japan on Friday was a bitterly disappointing one, but Tuesday offers an immediate opportunity for some redemption, and for some fringe prospects to take advantage of the opportunities wasted by others.

From an attack that failed to register a single shot on goal, to a defense that looked shaky both with and without the ball, the USMNT gave Gregg Berhalter plenty to think about after Friday’s 2-0 loss. We should expect plenty of lineup changes, though that was likely already part of the plan heading into the September friendlies.

Berhalter revealed on Monday that Ricardo Pepi will get the nod at striker, while Christian Pulisic will start after sitting out the Japan friendly with a minor injury.

We should also expect some changes to the back-line, particularly at fullback, where several candidates are available to step in.

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

USMNT roster for September friendlies

GOALKEEPERS: Ethan Horvath (Luton Town/ENG), Sean Johnson (New York City FC), Matt Turner (Arsenal/ENG)

DEFENDERS: Sergiño Dest (AC Milan/ITA), Aaron Long (New York Red Bulls), Mark McKenzie (Genk/BEL), Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes/FRA), Joe Scally (Borussia Mönchengladbach/GER), Sam Vines (Royal Antwerp/BEL), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)

MIDFIELDERS: Kellyn Acosta (LAFC), Tyler Adams (Leeds United/ENG), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional/BRA), Luca de la Torre (Celta Vigo/ESP), Weston McKennie (Juventus/ITA), Malik Tillman (Rangers/SCO)

FORWARDS: Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United/ENG), Paul Arriola (FC Dallas), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen/NED), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea/ENG), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund/GER), Josh Sargent (Norwich City/ENG)

USMNT Projected XI vs. Saudi Arabia

SBI Preferred XI vs. Saudi Arabia


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Who will start – Matt Turner

Who should start – Matt Turner

You can make a case for Turner having shown enough against Japan, and argue that an Ethan Horvath or Sean Johnson would benefit from a chance to show what they can do. Berhalter could go that route, but if he is feeling like Turner is his number one, then giving him as many minutes as possible also makes sense.


Who will start – DeAndre Yedlin, Aaron Long, Mark McKenzie, Sergiño Dest

Who should start – Joe Scally, Erik Palmer-Brown, Mark McKenzie, Sergiño Dest

Zimmerman and Sam Vines both played the full 90 minutes against Japan, making them less likely to start against Saudi Arabia. Getting a look at McKenzie and Palmer-Brown would be good, but it’s tough to see Berhalter starting a centerback tandem without at least one veteran.

Speaking of veterans, Yedlin has a chance to capitalize on Reggie Cannon’s injury and poor showing against Japan with a start on Tuesday, though Joe Scally has certainly done enough on the club level to merit a start.


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

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

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

Aaronson feels like a no-brainer option to start in central midfield, but given the fact he played 90 minutes against Japan, and was beaten up for most of that 90 minutes, we can see Berhalter taking it easy on the Leeds midfielder and giving a start to Acosta.

Could we get a look at Gio Reyna in a central role? It would be worth some time, even if it’s just a half.


Who will start – Christian Pulisic, Ricardo Pepi, Gio Reyna

Who should start – Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, Gio Reyna

Berhalter gave away some of the mystery on Monday by revealing Pulisic and Pepi will start, but you have to wonder whether we could see Pepi and Sargent together. Sargent plays on the right wing at times for Norwich City, and we did get a glimpse of the Sargent-Pepi combination last week in training.

Berhalter’s decision to start Pepi at striker instead of Sargent feels a bit like a last chance for Pepi, though so much can happen in the six weeks between now and the day World Cup rosters are announced.

Reyna only played 45 minutes against Japan and should start again Tuesday if he is healthy, but you wonder whether Berhalter might deploy him in central midfield. Aaronson playing the full 90 minutes against Japan could open the door for a look at Reyna in a central role, though Kellyn Acosta feels like a more likely bet to start in the Yunus Musah spot.

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

Share your thoughts below.


  1. they promising to show up and actually play hard this time? maybe it’s i remember GB’s one MLS final he lost at home within about the first 15′ from that team coming out flat as a pancake as well.

    • in terms of lineup critique, that particular group has tended to be ineffective to get the ball forward. christian and reyna are not “play them into space” wingers. likewise mckennie is not really a “tight spaces dribble king.” how are we planning on getting out of our own end. as mentioned in my post below, we need to start thinking about like, what are we trying to do. i think the midfield needs to be more technical and the wings more speedy. that gives you a couple ways of getting out of our end. superior skill or wide speed. we might also try rostering at least one big lunk where if the false 9s can’t be found, we can sub on someone tall for trying to field and hold clearances and crosses.

      personally i think this “pass into the teeth of the press” nonsense is about as tactically naive as it comes. as a former defender if i was being chased — what we used to call it — and my central option wasn’t wide open — it was either wide to the chalk or long to space. i would have been yanked in 5 seconds for deliberately unsuccessfully trying to thread needles to passing targets middle of the field, that came right back at me. i get this may look clever with pep’s well-compensated all star team but with our roster maybe do the common sense thing. switch sides, over the top, around the defense. not right into the wood chipper.

      to me pulisic and mckennie and reyna arrayed like that is into the wood chipper.

  2. @Vacqui,
    Tyler is playing the best soccer of his career, fo sure. Many know this to be true. He does not belong on your list at all. Very typical overreach from you…always blowing smoke…why man? Yes, CP has struggled for time at Chelsea, Weston is up and down like many young players, but Gio is hardly even an adult yet! Hardly a disappointment and not a difficult thing to understand regarding their leadership qualities, just another reason GB keeps bringing in old guard players…remember Honduras away? We all saw then and there the leadership issues with this young team.
    It’s not some surprise that a young team experiences things like this. You know soccer, clearly, so you know this.
    Re. the team’s culture with GB, I disagree on the “yes man” thing”…where do you get that? Just look back to last summer’s victories over Mexico, twice, with 2 different teams. That was players “BUYING” into the system, literally the opposite of what you say.
    I have no clue what will happen in Qatar, GB is certainly imperfect, but not how you just described it.
    Mexico hasn’t been ‘good’ in many decades (if ever, unless the standard for good is low). That is a LOL statement based in fantasy

    • “Tyler is playing the best soccer of his career, fo sure. Many know this to be true. He does not belong on your list at all.”

      He’s not.

      He’s playing well but best soccer of his life? Prove that. Tyler has been at Leeds for about 6 league games and is doing well . But it’s early yet. He’s done well for stretches that long at Leipzig and did well in the Champions League for them as well. Jesse is a positivity filled marketing and man management genius but the reality is Leeds is a struggling low to mid table club whose main focus will be to stay up, not chase Bayern Munich or the Champions League like Leipzig did when Tyler was a starter there. Granted Leipzig is shit today, Leeds is still is a step down for him, at the moment. He has a chance there to build up to where he was before when he was being hailed as the American Kante. Maybe you missed all the early hype on Tyler but that adductor injury, a serious one, looks like it may have taken some height off of his ceiling.

      ” That was players “BUYING” into the system, literally the opposite of what you say.”

      First of all that was against a team you believe to be crap. I happen to agree with that. So what’s the big deal beating an inferior team twice? They should have, Mexico sucked.

      Second that wasn’t them “buying in” to the system Koolade. That was a slugfest. That was the players finally deciding to show up and play together in a way that a wasn’t exactly “system approved”..

      “Weston is up and down like many young players, but Gio is hardly even an adult yet! Hardly a disappointment and not a difficult thing to understand regarding their leadership qualities, just another reason GB keeps bringing in old guard players…remember Honduras away? We all saw then and there the leadership issues with this young team.
      It’s not some surprise that a young team experiences things like this. You know soccer, clearly, so you know this.”

      You are confusing experience with leadership.

      Pulisic has always been a leader by example. Which is another way of saying his personality is such that he isn’t exactly much of a leader. otherwise. Players only respond to “experienced leaders” if they can still actually play. If the can’t they become Michael Bradley.

      Experience can make good players better leaders but if you’re a mediocre player, experience just makes you an experienced mediocre player.

      What I know is soccer is like all pro sports. However old you are, if you’re good enough you’re old enough. But I also know that you have to keep producing and if you are not productive , you won’t get a lot of time or an endless number chances to make your case. There is always some new kid on the block waiting to take your place.

      All of our “Golden Generation” kids, Pulisic, Adams, Weston, Dest, Gio, Weah, Josh, ad nauseum, have missed on their first big chance to be a legit star . They may get a second one, they may not. But it’s not a really good idea to take that “progression” for granted the way you and many here seem to. Cliche warning; top flight soccer is a dog eat dog business. It is really tough out there

      “Re. the team’s culture with GB, I disagree on the “yes man” thing”…where do you get that?”

      I didn’t get it from anywhere. That’s a Mr. Otis thing. Ask him.

      “Mexico hasn’t been ‘good’ in many decades (if ever, unless the standard for good is low). That is a LOL statement based in fantasy”

      Over the years Mexico has been equal or marginally better than the USMNT. You can look it up.

      Of course Mexico did win the 1999 Confederations Cup beating Brazil. It was a humble tournament but at least it wasn’t a CONCACAF tournament.

      The USMNT has won how many tournaments outside of CONCACAF? How many?

      Then again maybe you can tell me when was the last time Mexico failed to qualify for the World Cup?

      I’ll tell you when. 1934. They didn’t even have SBI then or computers.

      Whatever you think of Mexico, and I think they suck, the USMNT just finished below them in WC qualifying.

  3. Good lord just play either Gio or Brendan central with Weston and Tyler then put whoever is not central on the wing. Is this really that complicated????

    For me it Gio central to get him on the ball more and Brendan on the wing to pressure the ball like he does. I honestly don’t understand why GB complicates things so much.

  4. Been thinking about how the idea that the USA should have “system” rather than create a team with your best players is complete BS. Developing a system in weak cocacaf is fools gold. Sure it works there (sometimes barely) but as soon as you venture out of the region you get exposed.

    We should have one goal, win. How do we win? Who are our best players? What do they do best? What is American Soccer? It’s not a system. It’s speed, strength, grit, goalkeeping, aerial superiority, crosses, set pieces. Just win baby. I don’t care if its 0-0 on PKs. We want to advance in international tourneys not play beautiful and get sent packing after 3 games.

    • Mr. Soccer,

      “the idea that the USA should have “system” rather than create a team with your best players is complete BS. Developing a system in weak cocacaf is fools gold.”

      With a national team having a system is something that best arises organically.

      Many of your players are on one club? And play in a league where most players are very familiar with the system of that one club?

      Then cap a preponderance of Barcelona players or Bayern Munich players.

      The core of England’s recent “success” was Spurs and Man City based. Kane, Dier, Kyle Walker, Trippier all current or former Spurs players, Foden, Grealish, Stones, Sterling, Kyle Walker, all current or former Man City players.

      That’s pretty rare for the USMNT with Tyler-Brenden being the only recent example I can think of .

      In that case you start with something simple but effective that generally fits most of your player pool and then over three years or so, work on refining it. Step by step.

      But the first order of business is to insure defensive solidity. That’s simple enough to work on because defense is mainly about, discipline, patience and really, really hard work. Take a look at all the recent successful National teams and you’ll find they tend to be defensively solid teams that play simply.

      Gregg’s always looks like he’s trying to install all of his system all at the same time, The result seems to be confusion .

  5. I like the McKennie, Aaronson, Adams midfield. With Aaronson more of the 10 with McKennie dropping slightly behind helping Adams. Also I think it might be time to question if McKennie is a penciled in starter for the WC. Especially considering both Musah and Aaronson have started off the season much better than McKennie.

    • people need to quit just picking names of fanboy favorites and start thinking skill sets and what the heck our overall strategic goals are. what purpose is our midfield? i assume adams or like to thwart things. but then what purpose for the AMs? if we want to either create chances or possess the mids need to be more technical. if we want to defend en masse then mckennie is more tolerable but you then need to emphasize wide attack because he’s best crashing the box and not so great passing to the right team over and over as a technical team requires.

      our problem is buried in the jargon and condescension GB tends to pick hybrids good at nothing in particular because he hasn’t quite picked what he is really trying to accomplish. IMO they need to either sell out on attack and try to win 3-2 — or they need to drop into a 442 or 451 if they want all these hybrids.

      to me pulisic reyna should be the technical midfield backed by adams with musah weah aaronson wide. that gets you a mix of wide play we already have plus a more direct central thrust that can possess. mckennie, sloppy but productive, as supersub to crash the box against tired defenses.

  6. Sargent up top all day. Play your best players, stop trying to influence the game too much Berhalter, let them play. Them not we, none of us are on the team

    • i think you’re xeroxing GB’s “deciding the lineup from paper scouting” mentality which is half our problem. you don’t pick winners ahead of time. you throw vazquez sargent pepi ferreira in a steel cage and reward the productive winner. this is the way the US (and most soccer teams i have ever been with) used to operate. reward playing well. we instead annoint the winner before they kick a ball, based on resume or stats, and worse, seem to get confused about how the law of averages plays out. which is if you hand even a complete duffer enough minutes, they will eventually score, and your confirmation bias will feel pleased. but the question in reality is if i had given B C D E the same pile of minutes what would they do.

      personally i seriously doubt the former FCD forward corps — and their old coach is only an assistant to the US now — are such gods or they would have won MLS. last i remember last year they were a point or two above houston near bottom. that’s our striker pool????

      i am open to sargent fighting his way back in but when the whole offense funnels to the 9 he needs goals and assists. and i really wish this had been done like a competition and less like a scripted dress rehearsal with the actors already chosen for their parts. if this is his team they looked awful. the normal way to avoid that is reward players who play well and units that get wins.

  7. There was no reason to bring Ariolla, Pepi, Scally, or EPB if not going to give them time as they are all fringe players so I think they will all start. I don’t expect Gregg to show the 4-2-3-1 that I think he will use against Wales.


    … sorry, this is what I think we will see tomorrow, but not in WC. As Vacquia says, this is just a scrimmage.

  8. Sometimes this Japan loss just hits me like a ton of bricks, of how bad things went…..when you REALLY REALLY think about it, for 90+ minutes (for more than an hour and 30 mins of playing time) the USMNT had zero shots on goal…..LIKE ZERO SHOTS ON GOAL? NOTHING? Nobody was able to dribble clear and get close enough for a shot? With most of our foreign players starting, we couldn’t even get a clear chance on goal? Like seriously, no-one (again for 90+ minutes), was able to get an opening, a volley, a cross, through pass or a single opportunity to take a shot???? A single shot?

    Okay, I’m just going to have to stay the path, trust the process and believe GB knows what he’s doing, but wwwwwwooooooossssaaaaa!!!!”

      • Yeah it was brutal. Hopefully they mesh better when the WC kicks off. They will have less than 10 days together before that first game starts. I have a feeling we will see many teams struggle to mesh that first week.

      • the problem with this “way of playing” nonsense is most teams would already adapt. either naturally or the coach would already have drilled in them how to respond to anticipated adversities. one concern i have with this “identity” or “how we play soccer” stuff is sometimes that becomes “walking into the wood chipper.” everything we were doing was playing into japan’s hands.

        i mean, if a team was parked high upfield on my end chasing me in back, if the short pass wasn’t easily on, i wouldn’t be egging opponents into “thread the needle” scenarios we kept losing, i would be rapidly switching sides, or playing behind them to the forwards, diagonals, over the top. start making them pay for a narrow shape and overaggression. to me this is a natural defender response. it’s drummed out of people by this identity nonsense. people keep dissing the defenders losing the passes out but 90% of them i am sure are not treated like midfielders in a buildup like this. when it’s one guy, maybe it’s his issue. when it’s the whole line, it’s coaching. maybe it’s, if i had reyna on the field, he would be running my offense and not the wingbacks and the centerbacks. dear god.

  9. Who cares who starts? All I want is more commitment and better passing. Those were so badly lacking vs Japan it was shambolic.

    Players at the International level should not need to rely on coaches to tell them this is important and that they need to be fully committed to winning 50-50 balls and making challenges, things that just did not happen in the Japan game. (Well, maybe Aaronson gets a pass on those, but no one else.)

    • if you want intensity, you select for it. sorry but running out LDLT and dest makes me question how hard you ever planned on defending. if you want thunderdome you pick an 11 who get stuck in. period.

  10. If we play a 4-3-3 and it fails to produce attacking moments and shots then it might be time for a formation change. To many times I have felt that this USMNT was toothless in the 4-3-3 this cycle.

  11. Either front six works for me. Don’t even mind the Sargent at right forward/wing suggestion, play Aaronson or Reyna centrally, bring the other off the bench. Dest has to play left back, period. Probably Yedlin at rightback so Scally can backup either side. Centerback is the real question. Personally I have seen enough of Long.
    McKenzie wasn’t bad but wasn’t good either. Zimmerman has to be tired after 90 min of getting worked but I feel like we need his presence. Maybe give EPB his shot since he is last man standing lol.

  12. Show some dexterity and pragmatism in a game plan and players action to follow. I assume Saudi Arabia will press and push the ball wide. With physical high contact on the ball pressure in the midfield. Hoping the backline, especially CB keep there head up and look for diagonal balls over the press and off the Saudi’s CB shoulders. Those passes are there if being pressed. From there the midfield needs win second balls and make it a habit!
    Also this is where Pepi either sinks or swims , can he hold the ball and make a quick pass? Almost think GB set up the roster knowing Pefok is a capable target forward, given teams will press the US ?
    Expecting a bounce back match from McKennie, Adams, and Reyna. These guys need to be 86 to 88% passing
    Who ever plays LB can they combine with Pulisic?
    Can a striker finish?

    • dude, as a former defender, if teams are chasing me around the backline, and i lack the time to make accurate passes to central mids, i don’t want a false 9, i want track sprinters i can send over the top, or a target man who if i chip over the press can win, hold the ball, and get us out of our end. i get the 433 fanboy jollies are to respond to such a press with intricate passing right through the press but that’s a naive response — let me play right into your tactical emphasis — and 20 pass goals are usually highlight reel stuff precisely because they happen once a year. c’mon dude. proper response to a team pushed way too high and narrow to my side is either switch, diagonal, or over the top. either rapidly change fields or hit the ball all the way around/over the press into the green space. “around” if it hurts your tender sensibilities for the ball to leave the ground.

  13. At this point I don’t care who GB puts in. I just want to see some kind of attack pattern and Defense posture that makes sense in relation to the players called in camp. This team currently seems to be “one dimensional” and has absolutely no plan B once their Plan A fails (though I could be wrong and it is part of the testing process!!).
    After the debacle with japan, at this point, I just want to see something….a spark….anything!!!! Just the basics like sound fundamentals, teamwork (players covering for each other), proper positioning, combination plays, good communication, the ability to execute (mental fortitude), the belief to win, the hustle, the Focus etc
    GB has brought us this far and his record with the USMNT soundly speaks for itself, so he IS doing something right……..but I don’t know if I would be able to handle another “ZERO SHOTS ON GOAL” game, lol

  14. I much prefer Ives’ lineup with 2 exceptions. I would put Reyna as a midfielder and Aronson as the right side attacker. Without Musah, I think Reyna is the best bet for a passing midfielder. Also, I would prefer the in-form Sargent up top over Pepi who was basically demoted at club level. Time for the team to get serious, not much time left until the WC.

    • For me the thing with Reyna might be to keep him at RW so he doesn’t have to run as much as he would as an 8. If this is a tournament game I think that’s the right call. I think Pepi is getting 45 mins whether that is the first half or second. I get what your saying but wasn’t Sargent also demoted to a lesser club? I mean yes it’s a club failure that Sargent is in the Championship but he was certainly a contributing factor to his team being relegated. Honestly I wouldn’t mind seeing Ferreira playing underneath Sarge or Pepi in a 4-2-3-1 for 30 minutes as he does for FCD when Jara comes on.

      • Really JR? Saying Sargent got demoted because his team was relegated? That’s just ridiculous. At least Sargent is in excellent form and I don’t think that can be said about Pepi.

    • Players need to step up. Timmy Howard got it right on the ISWT podcast this morning: whatever the game plan is, if/when it doesn’t work, a leadership group needs to change things up on the field. Timmy stated that, even when you know the manager is going to chew you out at half time for deviating, you have to do it, take it to the chin at half time, and respond to the manager “we had to send it up field, or we’d be 4-0 down at this point.” I’m not sure this team has such a leadership group. Hope to be proven wrong, but I’m concerned that GGG’s team culture has been as much about fostering a “yes man” mentality as it has been about a specific style of play.

      • Mr. Otis.

        “I’m not sure this team has such a leadership group. Hope to be proven wrong, but I’m concerned that GGG’s team culture has been as much about fostering a “yes man” mentality as it has been about a specific style of play.”

        You can be sure they don’t have such a leadership group.

        Who are the biggest “stars”?
        Pulisic, Tyler, Weston, Gio , Dest.
        How are those guys doing with their careers?

        All them have huge potential, are very talented and all of them, this past couple of years, have been having an up and down time with their clubs and the USMNT.

        I won’t waste time on the narrative. Y’all know it by heart.

        None of them have lived up to the lofty expectations of the US fans.

        No world class stars here. Not even close. It’s all sizzle no steak.

        It turns out our youthful stars, especially the ones who we would expect to be the leaders, aren’t such big stars after all. They have enough trouble getting themselves straightened out let alone guiding the others into performing that El Tri/ Howard kind of on the field challenge to this boss.

        Gregg is insecure and basically a control freak. And with these players being a control freak may be a requirement.

        A few years back Mexico was changing managers as often as you all change your underwear. Chicharito was asked if that wasn’t a huge disruption to the players. At the time El Tri was loaded with a lot of pretty accomplished players near the peak of their powers.

        I don’t have the quote but, to paraphrase him, he said something like;

        ” That stuff doesn’t bother us because we play for each other and ourselves. We ignore the coach for the most part and do what is best for the team.”

        Those teams did well.

        Eventually our “stars” will mature and might even become great leaders. But right now their leadership qualities are very much in question.

        In some ways you have to feel for Gregg. It feels like he’s been sold a bill of goods. He thought he was getting this power house team of young world class all stars who were going to make him look good.

        Instead he has a team of mentally vulnerable, high maintenance, underachievers and, ironically, he does not appear to be equipped to help them “achieve”.

        It looks like the players and the manager tolerate each other largely because neither side really knows what else to do. They are stuck with each other.

        It’s a bad mix, inexperienced players who are struggling led by an inexperienced manager who’s got no more cards to play and is running out of time.

        Still, sometimes teams in this situation get lucky. Maybe the night before the Wales game everyone, players and management, all have an epiphany and decide to let it all hang out and just do what is necessary to actually “play”.

        In any case, I’m looking forward to November. It ought to be a hoot.

      • well, i agree with the mentality — he can’t sub them all for deviation. i also think that the degree of deference shown to this coach by his players likely reflects them being so young they think they owe him their jobs when they in reality would probably have similar positions with the next hire. it has interested me that beyond a pulisic anger spell or the out of favor pomykal there has been no public venting, even off the record or anonymized. arena mocked his old mentee, but he’s been knocked down a peg and doesn’t owe the system anything.

        one of the key problems i see is we do seem to pull this off the mat just enough, every time it takes a haymaker, where without more chatter USSF would be seen as aggressive to do something about it. but then it’s easy to fire arena or klinsi at the point they got canned.

        but then part of the problem i see here is a key part of earnie and mcbride’s jobs is….hiring this coach. makes them look bad to fire one.

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