After winning eight of his first 11 matches in charge of the United States, things have suddenly turned sour, and in a hurry.
Back-to-back losses to arch-rivals Mexico in which the USMNT was thoroughly dominated have left the fanbase searching for answers and reasons to hope for the future. The damage done in those two matches – a Gold Cup final and a friendly just days ago – will take some time to undo, proving the United States still has acres of ground to cover before seriously competing with not just the big boys in CONCACAF but the world.
Still, steps can be taken as the United States meets Uruguay in St. Louis. The world’s fifth-ranked national team arrives with a full strength squad, and while not all the stars will play for the visitors, it will provide another stiff test for the USMNT to measure itself against some of the best teams in the world.
Unfortunately for the home side licking its wounds after the disappointing Mexico performance, a number of players have returned to their club for a few extra days rest, treatment, and training. Christian Pulisic, chief among them, has returned to Chelsea as he continues to fight for consistent playing time with the Blues as staying with the national team would have created a potentially harmful short turnaround for a player who has far to travel. The 20-year-old saw some criticism for a rare poor performance against Mexico, although he still showed flashes of his brilliant self in what few attacking moments the United States had. Also leaving the squad are Alfredo Morales, John Brooks, Sean Johnson, Weston McKennie, and Zack Steffen.
The departure of Morales is unfortunate, as he was one of the few bright spots against Mexico over the weekend. McKennie still has plenty of growing up to do, and another 90 minutes with the national team against a top opponent would have done him a world of good, so his departure is also a bummer. The health of Brooks is probably more important than more playing time at this point as the defender looks towards a full fall and winter with Wolfsburg, while Steffen is not off to the greatest of starts at Fortuna Dusseldorf.
So, that leaves Berhalter to scrap together a competitive starting lineup that will not only be up to the task against Uruguay, but also provide the right players valuable minutes moving forward. How will he put together a lineup and substitution play against the South American giants?
Possible USMNT lineup v. Uruguay:
— Guzan —
— Cannon — Robinson — Long — Ream —
— Trapp — Pomykal —
— Morris — Roldan — Lletget —
— Sargent —
It’s tough for fans – and admittedly, writers – to separate what we want to see in a lineup and what we think the head coach will do. The biggest glaring miss here from the lineup is Sergino Dest, who was occasionally sloppy but also occasionally brilliant in his USMNT debut, and while he got the start against an arch rival and could benefit not only from more experience as well as more loyalty shown as he decides who to represent between the U.S. and the Netherlands, it’s unlikely Berhalter throws him on for another start against a world power. To be honest, it’s a bit surprising he’s still with the squad and didn’t depart along with the other European-based players. With Ajax returning to club action on Saturday, it’s hard to see Berhalter overworking the 18-year-old by starting him in a second straight friendly.
It would also be great to get Jesse Gonzalez some time in goal, but with so many other young players set to see time in this match, it’s more likely that Berhalter sticks with veteran Brad Guzan who can help lead and allow Berhalter to sacrifice experience in other areas. Same goes for Tim Ream who will once again deputize at left-back in Dest’s absence. Reggie Cannon has earned another start after showing well over the weekend. This seems a good time to hand Miles Robinson his full debut as Walker Zimmerman got the start against Mexico and struggled, and with Guzan behind him and Aaron Long next to him, Robinson will be well supported.
In midfield, we could see Paxton Pomykal on his USMNT debut as well, and it will be interesting to see where Berhalter utilizes the 19-year-old. He has seen an offensive-minded push at FC Dallas, but could sit deeper with the United States, still able to get forward at times with Trapp covering the space. Corey Baird could see time on the wing, but Jordan Morris is the more likely option on the wing to help Josh Sargent up front who gets a look after adding a spark off the bench against Mexico. It’s fully believable that Berhalter could once again turn to his infatuation with Gyasi Zardes, but that would be disappointing and harsh on Sargent.