It’s a burning question. We probably know the answer to who will start for the U.S. Coach Gregg Berhalter surely has his favorites, his doghouse residents, and a shitty system he’s married to that is a lousy match for the skillsets of his player pool. But if the choice was made on things like merit, form, common sense and win probability added, that lineup would look different and everyone knows it. So who would they be?
First, some housekeeping. Why Berhalter doesn’t do this is beyond me but in order to maximize the output of what’s available, you have to play a formation that is a modified 5-3-1-1 or 5-3-2, with two wing backs making up 40% of the defense, with the remaining 60% comprised of three center-backs. More on this in a moment.
GK: Ethan Horvath, Luton Town
Berhalter seems committed to Matt Turner, who barely plays at Arsenal, and when healthy, Zack Steffen. Steffen is a decent keeper, but blunder-prone which you simply can’t have on the big stage. Turner is an ok shot-stopper but has poor hand position and is consistently late to set his feet. Horvath is unspectacular, and while he may not steal any games for you, he certainly won’t give them away either.
Also in consideration: No one. The goalie pool is shallow. Sean Johnson is ok, Gaga Slonina has promise but is barely 18. It’s Horvath or bust.
LCB: Cameron Carter-Vickers, Celtic
We’re assuming a return to health for CCV here, but he was clearly the best defender in Scotland last year, and is a set it and forget it central defender. As well-rounded as defenders come, he’s a must start if fit.
CB: Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC
Everpresent in the center of the U.S. defense, he’s the glue that holds the back line together. Formidable in the air and cerebral on the turf, he’s a throwback to the big center backs of old.
RCB: Tim Ream, Fulham
Now, this won’t happen, but it should. Yes, he’s old, but that hasn’t stopped him from being virtually ever-present for Fulham this season in the Premier League. You may or may not have noticed, but the steady veteran’s consistent performances have been a huge contributor to Fulham’s surprisingly solid start to the season.
Other Options: Chris Robinson is just about International quality. But the drop off to Erik Palmer Brown is steep. Precipitously steep. Best to run with these three as far as they’ll take you.
LWB: Jedi Robinson, Fulham
Playing three center backs can really allow the U.S. to take full advantage of Robinson’s attacking prowess. His speed and recovery make him an adequate defender but the U.S. is at its most threatening when he and (spoiler alert) Sergino Dest are marauding up their respective wings. Robinson’s final ball is abysmal, but he still causes all kinds of havoc.
RWB: Sergino Dest, AC Milan
He needs to get healthy, and he needs to get game time, but hes a dynamic threat on the wing. Like Jedi on the other wing, playing three center backs allows Dest to attack more freely, and he’s always a threat when running with the ball at his feet.
Other Options: None, really. Joe Scally is a nice talent, and DeAndre Yedlin a dependable veteran on a very young team, but neither move the attack on either wing like Jedi and Dest.
DCM: Tyler Adams, Leeds
His start in the EPL has been inauspicious but he’s a no nonsense, tough tackling stud in holding midfield. If he recaptures his Bundesliga form, he’s as good of a player as the U.S. have. If healthy, or not on yellow card accumulation suspension, he’s a fixture.
LCM: Christian Pulisic, Chelsea
The USMNT’s most recognizable star is a polarizing figure in soccer circles, but he’s a one-of-a-kind in the U.S. player pool. He disappears for long stretches on occasion but he’s never much more than an opportunity away from a big goal.
RCM: Tim Weah, Lille
Weah is a tough player to describe. He’s skillful and dynamic, but what you really need him for is his explosiveness. Capable of putting the defense consistently on its heels, he’s a threat to score for a team that doesn’t have a ton of pure scoring threats.
Other Options: Luca De La Torre and Yunus Musah are both talented centrally oriented midfielders but are probably best left on the subs bench if all other options are fit.
AM: Gio Reyna, Borussia Dortmund
We’re not just assuming health here, we’re praying for it. Fit, he’s the team’s best player. Nobody knows it because he’s spent so much time injured but the kid is a damn magician with the ball. The finishing product could be better but he draws so much attention in the attack, he’s an assist waiting to happen. His presence might make the difference between a group stage exit and a round of 16 appearance.
Other Options: Brendan Aaronson is a favorite of Berhalter, which of course he is because… never mind. Anyway, I’ve come around a little on Aaronson. I used to scream bloody murder at his inability to keep formation and reckless runs into no man’s land. Now, I appreciate his relentless hustle and willingness to chase even lost causes, even if his finishing is dreadful. If he could learn to run at defenders with the ball at his feet, he’d win a penalty every other game.
ST: Jordan Pefok, Union Berlin
Probably the only true center forward the U.S. has. Pefok is in nice form for the German upstarts, and while he’s prone to blasting sitters into row zed, he’s also a consistent threat to get behind the defense. Scoring for the U.S. will take the whole village, but Pefok is the most in form striker in the pool.
Other Options: Ricardo Pepi is off to a nice start in Groningen, but he’ll have to show it for more than a few games in order to head the pecking order at striker again.
Well, how did we do? Who would you start if the decision was yours? Let us know on Twitter @thestainsports. Thanks for reading.