How will the USMNT lineup for their final World Cup qualifier at Costa Rica on Wednesday (watch live, 9:05pm ET on NBC Universo and Peacock)?
How do you lineup for a game which you can afford to lose by five goals and still qualify for the 2022 World Cup?
It is an intriguing proposition for USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter because there are a plenty of things going on here:
1) you want to rest your star players. 2) you have to avoid a disastrous defeat which could knock you out of automatic qualification. 3) you need a certain amount of experience sprinkled throughout the team to avoid any kind of heavy defeat, but you want to give fringe players a chance.
Below is how I would line up the USMNT in Costa Rica, from the start, while remembering that you can make five subs and four of them would probably come on at half time to get the job done.
USMNT lineup vs Costa Rica (4-3-3 formation)
—– Horvath —–
— Moore — Robinson — Long — Yedlin —
— Acosta — Adams — Busio —-
—- Weah —- Pepi —- Reyna —-
Okay, most USMNT fans would want to play Zack Steffen, Tyler Adams and Christian Pulisic to start. But what is the point? The job is 99 percent done. Those players have put in heavy shifts in two big games over the last few days.
The big question for Berhalter is this: do you start with your strongest team and if say it’s 0-0 or you’re only 1-0 down at half time, you then sub off most of the starters? Or do you start with a weaker lineup and then bring on the big boys at half time to close out qualifying in style?
I’d actually go for the approach of starting most of the back-up players to give them a chance to show what they can do. They are fresher, hungry to prove they deserve to be in the World Cup squad (it’s happening, folks) and I’m not sure there’s that much drop-off across the squad outside of Pulisic, Adams and Reyna. It really is a very even player pool, but you still need to put out a starting lineup which has plenty of experience just to get to half time in a good situation.
I would start Horvath in goal because there’s no need to risk Steffen picking up an injury (he had recent back issues at Man City) and he already looked a little shaky against Panama. I would give Antonee Robinson a rest and play Yedlin at left back, which he has done before. I would also play Aaron Long and Miles Robinson together at center back, then bring on Erik Palmer-Brown for Robinson. There is no doubt that Miles Robinson and Zimmerman are the USMNT’s first-choice CB pairing, so you need to see Long and EPB in these situations.
In midfield, Tyler Adams will anchor things with his experience, at least for the first half, while Gianluca Busio and Kellyn Acosta have shown they can be very useful with their energy and precision in the engine room. Tyler Adams should be given a rest given the incredible workload he went through against Mexico and Panama but he makes this team tick and should play for the first half. Then, Luca de la Torre and Cristian Roldan should come on to play 45 minutes.
Up top, Jordan Pefok or Ricardo Pepi should start centrally, with Tim Weah and Gio Reyna (to continue his return to full fitness is he is over the sickness bug which went through the USMNT) either side to bring a spark to the attack. Christian Pulisic should only be used if desperately needed. He won’t be.