How will the USMNT lineup versus Mexico?

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Bruce Arena has some unique challenges in planning for Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Mexico at Azteca.

For one thing, Mexico’s really good. Beyond that, Arena has to marshall his men into battle just three days after its last match day (as does El Tri boss Juan Carlos Ozorio).

That lack of rest, coupled with the thin air of Mexico City and Mexico’s electric attack, make getting a point a tall task.

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Let’s begin with any prospective iron men. Osorio is into heavy squad rotation, which doubles Arena’s need for fresh legs. Who could defy a lineup change?

Christian Pulisic — Your best player plays, especially when he’s got the legs of an 18-year-old (because he is an 18-year-old).

Geoff Cameron — The odds say that John Brooks will come out of the lineup having played a bunch despite his tweak against Venezuela, and Arena will want some semblance of consistency in front of Tim Howard

Howard — He’s their best goalkeeper and has Azteca experience.

Michael Bradley — While he didn’t shine against T&T, he connected on 41 of 44 passes and his experience matters especially with Clint Dempsey expected to start on the bench.

Jozy Altidore — The big striker missed the friendly against Venezuela for a family wedding, and may have enough in the tank to start alone or with Bobby Wood.

DeAndre Yedlin — Stellar against T&T, and his two-way play could be a major asset south of the border.

Our guess is that all six of those players start, with two of Altidore, Pulisic, and Yedlin subbed out depending on the scoreline after an hour.

Arena is going to turn to longtime LA Galaxy charge Omar Gonzalez in place of Brooks, and will slot DaMarcus Beasley in place of Jorge Villafana. The latter was terrific against T&T, but Arena will want something more steady defensively guarding Mexico’s right side.

This is a major spot to hand Kellyn Acosta a big start at an important position, but Arena may want to use another midfielder alongside Bradley to clog up the middle of the park. Dax McCarty could also feature here.

Assuming Altidore and Bobby Wood up top, here’s what it could look like:

Howard

Yedlin — Cameron — Gonzalez — Beasley

Bradley — Acosta

Pulisic ————— Bedoya

Wood — Altidore

If Arena goes defense with just one striker, that’ll be Wood to start and opens up a place for Paul Arriola, Johnson, or even Nagbe. The Timbers playmaker has a knack for something special on offense, and going with one striker would allow Arena some leeway with Nagbe’s occasional defensive shortcoming and propensity for turning the ball over. To be clear, this is also a concern with Pulisic but there’s a gap in class there.

Howard

Yedlin — Cameron — Gonzalez — Beasley

Bradley — McCarty

Arriola — Pulisic — Nagbe

Wood