The USMNT is set for its third 2022 World Cup qualifier in seven days’ time on Wednesday, when they host Costa Rica in Columbus, Ohio, forcing head coach Gregg Berhalter to carefully consider each team he picks during each and every international window.
[ MORE: USMNT vs Costa Rica preview ]
October’s World Cup qualifying action began with a win over Jamaica, but a dismal defeat down in Panama has raised questions over a few individuals — Berhalter chief among them. Given the extra weight added to Wednesday’s game, the starting lineup will be scrutinized even more closely…
Who is yet to be rotated/rested?
Berhalter made seven changes for the trip to Panama — two of which were forced by injury and travel restrictions — which leaves just four players to start both games thus far, and only two (goalkeeper Matt Turner and center back Walker Zimmerman) to have played more than 135 of 180 minutes. Presumably, Berhalter would prefer to rest Turner and Zimmerman for the simple fact that playing three games in seven days is a massive workload (before players travel back to their respective club sides, where they’ll play another 90 minutes three days later).
There’s a ready-made replacement for Turner in Zack Steffen, who is yet to make an appearance in World Cup qualifying. The Manchester City backup was recovering from a minor injury when the September international window opened and he tested positive for COVID-19 before the third game in Honduras, which he would likely have started. As for Zimmerman, he’s been rock-solid over 180 minutes this month and there’s no one in the squad (or the player pool, for that matter) just waiting to take his place. Zimmerman might actually be undroppable right now, especially with John Brooks injured and not in camp.
Who was rested in order to be first for USMNT vs Costa Rica?
Tyler Adams. Brenden Aaronson. Ricardo Pepi. Sergiño Dest. In a must-win game tomorrow, next week or next month, they’re all starters — even with the entire player pool healthy and available for selection.
Plus, Antonee Robinson, who wasn’t available due to the United Kingdom’s restrictions against travel to Panama. Unlikely to start all three games anyway, Robinson will return to the lineup fully fresh on Wednesday.
And then there’s Weston McKennie, who picked up a minor quad injury and traveled alongside Robinson and Steffen to Columbus. If McKennie is healthy — and it does sound like he will be — he starts. Adams and McKennie together in midfield, as evidenced against Jamaica, is the very best version of the USMNT.
[ MORE: USMNT World Cup qualifying schedule ]
Who fills out the rest of the USMNT attack?
Again, options are limited with a small squad and more than a handful of reserves already among the ranks, so the likeliest answer is also the USMNT’s best-case answer this window.
Yunus Musah looked far more comfortable with the Adams-McKennie partnership behind him, and the 18-year-old Valencia midfielder thrived as a ball-progressing, nonstop shuttler in central midfield. The only time in which Musah isn’t the first-choice option in that spot is when Aaronson and Christian Pulisic are both in the squad, as Aaronson shifts inside to make way for Pulisic — and even then, it’s simply a matter of getting Aaronson on the field.
Speaking of impressive performances against Jamaica, Timothy Weah thrashed his way down both wings in the second half and gave the USMNT a legitimate open-field threat for the first time in a long time. All three of Weah, Musah and Aaronson are tactically flexible, so don’t be surprised to see lots of interchange and spatial switching among them.
Here’s what we think:
Dest — M. Robinson — Zimmerman — A. Robinson
Adams — McKennie
Weah — Musah — Aaronson