The eyes of U.S. Soccer — and Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel — will be on Gregg Berhalter’s lineup for the USMNT’s big Friday match against Mexico in World Cup qualifying.
The Yanks face El Tri with a chance to go level atop the qualifying table and Chelsea star Christian Pulisic is healthy but just returning from a long-term injury.
Pulisic is the Americans’ best playmaker and that carries even more significance when Giovanni Reyna is unavailable through injury, but will Berthalter opt to bring him off the bench against Mexico and see what that means for Jamaica next week? Will it be two subs appearances? Can Pulisic start both? Play neither?
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Berhalter has played a 4-3-3 for almost all of qualifying, though he experimented with formations in the Gold Cup and played a 3-4-3 against Mexico in the CONCACAF Nations League Final.
It was a 4-3-3 in the Gold Cup Final and while surprises are a good way to trip up the opposition, it seems unlikely that Berhalter would use home soil against his biggest rival to throw a wrench in a plan he believes has been pretty successful through six qualifiers.
Sergino Dest joins Reyna as absences for these qualifiers while Berhalter opted against calling John Brooks in for camp, leaving questions along the back line, too, plus there’s uncertainty as to whether Berhalter views Matt Turner or Zack Steffen as a clear No. 1 goalkeeper now that both are healthy in the same camp.
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The safest bet would be a 4-3-3 with minimal changes to the lineup that beat Jamaica and Costa Rica. The only differences between the two Starting XIs saw Chris Richards in for Miles Robinson, Zack Steffen for Turner, and Timothy Weah for Paul Arriola.
Pulisic, of course, is the other big question amongst possible starters, while Gianluca Busio’s play in the middle with Venezia — who just upset Roma with the American playing very well — will give Berhalter reason to examine whether the Sporting KC alum should start or Musah.
And Kellyn Acosta started in both the CNL and Gold Cup Finals against Mexico, going the distance in both.
Let’s give it a go after the jump:
How will USMNT lineup versus Mexico in big home World Cup qualifier?
Turner’s been getting more regular run with New England, and helped blank Mexico in the Gold Cup Final. Steffen will start in Jamaica
Scally — M. Robinson — Zimmerman — A. Robinson
For better or worse, Berhalter has not been hesitant to give players their first WCQ starts in big spots and he also seems to take righteous criticism seriously, and he heard a lot about Scally’s success at Gladbach while not being called up for the last round of qualifiers. That said, he’s preferred DeAndre Yedlin as a fullback sub in recent outings. Scally just may be a more like-for-like with Dest. Miles Robinson starts over Richards and Mark McKenzie.
Acosta — McKennie
There’s reason to deploy Musah over Acosta, but the savvy of Mexico’s midfield with Hector Herrera and Andres Guardado may make menace more appealing to Berhalter. Plus, it could free up McKennie to aid the attack in the event that Pulisic does not start.
Weah — Pepi — Aaronson
Paul Arriola’s experience in and against Mexico shouldn’t be understated, but he hasn’t been at his best in recent qualifiers while Weah has done enough to beg why he hasn’t seen more time. The combo of Weah and Aaronson — plus McKennie — should draw attention and give the young Ricardo Pepi more space to apply his skill set against a nation that finished second when he chose his national team allegiance.