What lineup & players should the USMNT go with?

The People’s Crest — You can find out more here: http://peoplescrest.org/

With the 2018 calendar coming to a close next month when the US Men’s National Team faces England on November 15 and Italy on November 20, I’ve been thinking about what’s the USMNT’s best lineup.

However, I didn’t want to just list some names and call it a day. I will also share what I think the instructions/expectations for each should be as well. With 2019 featuring the Gold Cup, it’s going to become more imperative that this team start figuring out what their style of play is or rather how does each player contribute to the style of play (which looks to be a team that presses and counters).

I’ll also list who I think should be in contention behind each starter. Also, keep in mind that this is based on current form and a “best starting XI” will always be a fluid process, even if USMNT coaches haven’t always taken that approach. While I think some players in the pool could be considered for multiple positions in areas like the midfield, I’m not going to do that. Here goes:

Goalkeeper — Brad Guzan

The reality is that while Zack Steffen is clearly the player who should be the starter if USMNT makes it to the 2022 World Cup, Brad’s experience and ability to command the box is needed. I think Zach is a better distributor and shot stopper but with such a young backline that’s still jelling, I think Brad’s experience is an asset.

Expectations: 1) Help organize the defense. 2) Command the box. 3) Get the ball out quickly to the CBs if playing short otherwise look to the flanks when kicking long (preference on the right).

In contention: Zach Steffen, Ethan Horvath, Bill Hamid, & Jesse Gonzalez.

Right Back — DeAndre Yedlin

Due to the lack of depth at both fullback positions (although it seems to be improving), Yedlin’s an undisputed starter for now. Hopefully, some players rise through the ranks to give Yedlin competition because Yedlin’s best asset remains his athleticism. While there’s nothing to be concerned regarding that for the next four years barring injury or a huge loss of form, it would be nice to have folks legitimately push him or surpass him.

Expectations: 1) Provide overlap when the right winger cuts in. 2) Utilize speed to get up and down the flanks with the priority being to not get caught out of position so that opponents can’t spring a counter down his flank into space. 3) Get up the pitch when possession is on the left to give options when the ball gets crossed. 4) Be an outlet on the wing when building out of the back.

In contention: Reggie Cannon, Eric Lichaj, Shaq Moore, & Brooks Lennon.

Right Center Back — Matt Miazga

Matt has been one of the players who’s really benefitted from the WCQ aftermath and I’m of the opinion that he could’ve helped. Anyways, Matt’s distributing and improved tremendously thanks to his time in Holland and he’s got some swagger too. He’s as close to a total package that you’re going to get in a USMNT CB pool: technical skills, size, athleticism & decision making.

Expectations: 1) Dominate the air. 2) Help distribute the ball out of the back and provide passes that can break lines. 3) Organize the back line.

In contention: Cameron Carter Vickers, Tim Parker, & Erik Palmer-Brown.

Left Center Back — John Brooks

Brooks provides a lot of the same qualities as Miazga. One could debate that they’re too similar and one should be benched in favor of a player that could provide something different like a Cameron Carter Vickers but, I’m not one of those. It’s a good argument however, I think having two CBs that are comfortable with the ball at their feet is very a good to have on the pitch.

Expectations: 1) Dominate the air. 2) Help distribute the ball out of the back and provide passes that can break lines. 3) Stay healthy, FFS.

In contention: Tim Ream, Aaron Long, & Justen Glad.

Left Back — Antonee Robinson

The latest round of friendlies has shown that Antonee is far from a finished product and who knows how well rounded he’ll ever become — I have a feeling that his ceiling will be a better version of Yedlin but he’s a further along that Yedlin was at this point and that’s a really good thing. Us fans will need to continue to monitor his club situation and be patient since the depth chart leave us no choice.

Expectations: 1) Provide overlap when the left winger cuts in and hit crosses when the opportunity is there. 2) Utilize speed to get up and down the flanks with the priority being to not get caught out of position so that opponents can’t spring a counter down his flank into space. 3) Be mindful about positioning and don’t get caught too far up the pitch. 4) Be an outlet on the wing when building out of the back.

In contention: Jorge Villafana, Brandon Vincent, & Danilo Acosta.

Defensive Midfield (Destroyer) — Tyler Adams

One conclusion that I’ve grudgingly come to accept is that the USMNT midfield works best with a double pivot. I think many fans (including myself) would like to see a true “number 10” in the USMNT line up but the reality is that I don’t think the team has the infrastructure to support that nor the player pool.

Why would I mention the romanticism of the “number 10” here? Well, because I think there’s potential for Tyler to play more advanced in the mold of an Arturo Vidal/Paul Pogba. What I mean by that is someone who’s a destroyer that plays high up the pitch and can also provide an offensive spark. No, Tyler is not at Vidal or Pogba’s level. But those players thrive in a midfield three where they can roam box to box to do three things really well: win the ball high up the pitch, spring counters high up the pitch, & make the right decision (whether that’s advance the ball, take a shot or make a key pass)…you guessed it, high.up.the.pitch.

And I have this feeling that the US style would love to have someone like that but at the same time don’t do it. Actually, the US did try to do that under Jurgen with Bradley playing higher and I think Klinsmann picker the wrong person. The problem was that Michael is more comfortable further back but I think it was a position Jones could’ve done since you need that “swashbuckling” typer and Jones fit that well….perhaps too well.

Anyways, I’ve digressed enough. Those same qualities that I talked about above also will work well for the USMNT as the defensive midfielder. Adams’ ability to break up plays will be necessary with who the person I plan on pairing him with.

Expectations: 1) Break up as many attacks as possible. 2) Keep the ball moving when in possession. 3) Get up the pitch when the other DM is controlling possession. 4) Join attacks late when the opportunity presents itself and it makes sense. 5) Be an outlet for the CBs when they are bringing the ball out of the back.

In contention: Russell Canouse, Christian Roldan, & Chris Durkin.

Defensive Midfield (Deep Lying) — Michael Bradley

Before I try to justify this selection, I want to acknowledge that I think we’re seeing a potential swift decline in his game. Michael has been playing for a long time and the desire is still very much there. My concern is that there a lot of miles on those legs and it’s clear (well, it has been for at least 18 months) that he cannot continue to be asked to play the same way he used to be able to for the USMNT.

So, why pick him? I believe if he’s paired in a double pivot with someone like Adams who can cover a lot of the field for him, then Bradley can pace himself better. One caveat to this is that the coach cannot plan for Bradley to be the same player that he’s been. Another advantage to having someone like Adams next to him is that the USMNT can finally stop asking Bradley to be a physical presence in the midfield. What I mean by that is Bradley isn’t one make a lot of tackles. His defensive positioning can be good but he’s more of a harasser than one who’s going to take the ball via a tackle.

Also, this team could still use his experience and leadership in a squad filled with the next generation of players.

Expectations: 1) Provide long diagonal balls to the wings when appropriate. 2) Slow down attacks when numbers are in the opponent’s favor. 3) Get the ball to the midfielders ahead of him so they can advance the ball when playing short and/or through the middle.

In contention: Wil Trapp, Darlington Nagbe, & Emerson Hyndman.

Central Midfield (Box to Box) — Westin McKinnie

Westin has probably looked more underwhelming with the USMNT than impressing. I’m hoping that’s more to do with the fact that the lack of team identity and true tactical gameplan has to do with that.

Westin’s ability to win the ball on the ground or in the air is very impressive, especially at the club level. He also has some great vision and played attaching mid for both FC Dallas and the USYNT before moving to Germany so he’s got some attacking instincts as well. The reason I chose Westin here over Adams is for a couple of reasons: Tyler has more pace & athleticism, Westin is a better attacker, & Tyler fits the destroyer role better.

Long term, my hope is Westin takes Michael’s spot and someone who’s more of an attacking midfielder can take this spot.

Expectations: 1) Help the striker press higher up the pitch to disrupt any rhythm when the opponent is building out of the back. 2) Be a secondary outlet for backline when building out of the back. 3) Player higher up the pitch when the USMNT has to ball so that the striker is not isolated.

In contention: Kellyn Acosta, Marky Delgado, & Alfredo Morales. If you want more of an attacking type, Julian Green, Andrew Carlton or Lyden Gooch.

Right midfield — Christian Pulisic

Some might rather see him centrally and there’s a compelling argument for that. I think the advantage to keeping him out wide is because that’s where he plays for his club and does a damn good job at it. Also, I think playing him centrally exposes him to facing central defenders who are most likely to be more physically imposing in comparison to fullbacks. Pulisic has the skills to deal with fullbacks even if they’re faster. In addition, having him wide might pull the defense wider when he stays wide, leaving gaps for the striker or advanced midfielder to exploit.

I’ll mention this hear but it also applies to left midfield as well, there’s not much depth right now in the pool and I don’t think I realized it until I decided to work on this piece.

Expectations: 1) Help fullback when the ball comes down their wing. 2) Stay higher up the pitch to be a counter-attack outlet when the ball is on the opposite side of the pitch. 3) Provide crosses or passes into the box from the right wing. 4) Cut inside when there’s space to exploit with fullback overlapping to maintain width.

In contention: Paul Arriola, Miguel Ibarra, & Romain Gall.

Left midfield — Timothy Weah

While he’s not getting much club minutes, it’s clear that the training he’s been exposed to at PSG has played huge dividends. Weah would rather play striker but due to depth issues, he’s going to stay out wide for me. If he’s to play out wide though, it needs to be on the left. Being a right-footed player allows him to cut inside on his stronger foot and make key passes or take a shot on goal. With Robinson supporting him on the left flank, its fine for him to be an inverted winger. The benefits for the team is that it gives the USMNT another player in attacking areas to support the lone striker and gives Robinson space to make crosses.

Expectations: 1) Help fullback when the ball comes down their wing. 2) Stay higher up the pitch to be a counter-attack outlet when the ball is on the opposite side of the pitch. 3) Cut inside when there’s space to exploit with fullback overlapping to maintain width.

In contention: Kenny Saif, Jonathan Amon, & Kelyn Rowe.

Striker — Bobby Wood

I’m really, really tempted to just turn the keys over to Josh Sargent however, I’ll hold off temptation for now. Bobby’s experience wins for now and his strength wins out for now. That doesn’t mean I don’t like Bobby. I think he’s got a nose for the goal, works hard and is gritty.

Expectations: 1) Help fullback when the ball comes down their wing. 2) Stay higher up the pitch to be a counter-attack outlet when the ball is on the opposite side of the pitch. 3) Cut inside when there’s space to exploit with fullback overlapping to maintain width.

In contention: Josh Sargent, Jozy Altidore (out of respect but I’m worried about him too), Andrjia Novakovich, Christian Gonzalez, Jordan Morris, & Gyasi Zardes (it gonna happen in Berhalter gets the job and will prob get the best out of him anyway).

Got any feedback? You can find me on Twitter at “SetPieces”.