The Copa America Centenario begins in only three days. We thought it would be a fun exercise to have anyone on the SSFC staff come forth with their preferred USMNT starting lineup choices for this tournament. Here are the entrants and their reasoning. Let us know in the comments what your preferred lineup is too.
GK – Okay, this will never happen, but why not?
Back 4 – No surprises here. Johnson and Yedlin are needed to provide width in our narrow 4-3-3ish variation. Brooks and Cameron compliment each other nicely.
Midfield – I’m not sold on Bradley being disciplined enough to provide the stability needed as the holding midfielder in a 4-3-3. He’s an aggressive player who has a tendency to get forward so I like him more as a box-to-box runner. Instead, Beckerman is the classic anchor needed against teams like Colombia who will have a lot of the ball and pace on the counter. Nagbe is the most advanced CM and has creative freedom to roam. (Jermaine Jones could be used for Nagbe to close out games or give us a nastier side if needed.)
Front 3 – It’s time to hand the keys up top to Bobby Wood. He’s a very good player who has all the qualities needed to thrive in this system. On the left, where I think Klinsmann will play Wood (structural issues coming), I would rather see Christian Pulisic. An agile, dynamic player, he offers something different and has a strong work rate to go along with his ability going forward. On the right I’ve gone with Alejandro Bedoya, a more conservative option who will work hard to provide DeAndre Yedlin cover and possibly another option in the midfield at times.
Adam Whittaker Snavely
The biggest and most glaring problem this lineup creates is the possibility that Dempsey gets sucked too far forward and the defense is exposed since he's in the midfield instead of someone like Jermaine Jones, who will actually murder people to stop attacks. But Nagbe is far more defensively responsible than most people give him credit for, and if the fatal flaw in this lineup is that there's too many attackers, I can live with that. Dempsey can create, and hanging underneath a Bobby Wood figure who will pin defenders back with his quick off the ball movement, he can get the space to do so.
I am a big proponent of getting your most talented players on the field any way possible. Darlington Nagbe and Christian Pulisic are far superior to Gyasi Zardes is pretty much ever facet of the sport. Get them on the field for the majority of the match and let them work their magic. Bedoya on the right will tuck in and provide cover to allow for Yedlin to overlap at will.
Dropping Dempsey is a tough choice, but one that needs to be made. He's just not worth having out there playing an undefined role and disrupting the formation's flow. A few years ago when he was in great form it was okay. Now that he's older and less instrumental in the attack, it's time to reduce his role and get some structure into the team.
I don't think Dempsey as the central striker is working. He doesn't hold up the ball very well and he keeps dropping into midfield. Wood, on the other hand, has shown decent hold up play and a total willingness to physical match up with the center backs. So Wood goes central while Deuce goes wide. For me, there was a choice of Pulisic v. Zardes. And while the later did score twice against Bolivia, I'm rather impressed with Pulisic's calmness and overall game. In midfield, I'm good with any two of Nagbe, Bedoya, and Jones (so long as Bradley is behind them). I slightly prefer Nagbe and I thought Bedoya was excellent against Bolivia. But then, so was Jones, so whoever it works out is okay by me.
This is the lineup that should be on the field, but we all know that it won't, because we can't have nice things. You've got Bobby Wood up top with Gyasi Zardes and Christian Pulisic, no Dempsey, no Wondo. I think it's past their time, Dempsey just isn't in form plus his drifting back to the midfield for touches, is beyond annoying and Wondo can't seem to translate club form to International.
Enough with the negative - the lineup should speak for itself. Move Fabian Johnson up to is club position in the midfield with Nagbe doing what he does with Bradley hanging back in front of the back four and be the pivot. Speaking of the back four it's so solid it's not even funny, that's why I don't feel too nervous to put Guzan in net. And if you're asking, Horvath is the #2.
While this formation is certainly narrow, Michael Bradley dropping deeper in midfield frees up Jermaine Jones and Darlington Nagbe to be more creative and have less defensive responsibility. Both Yedlin and Johnson can play at wing, but with this narrow 4-3-3 they are best suited at fullback bombing up and down the flanks as opposed to wide players in a different formation. Clint Dempsey will start, though he's probably best as a sub, but putting more onus on Bobby Wood's movement in the final third is probably the move to make here. And on our savior Pulisic: he will start at some point in this tournament, but his fresh legs will probably be best used as an impact sub late in games.
Let's get the best talent on the field. Let's be bold.
This is a lineup that wants to play on the front foot and assert itself at home. Klinsmann's stated goal is to reach the semifinals. You do that by winning the group. You win the group by beating Colombia. Score the first goal, get a first half lead, make your pragmatic defensive subs later. This is a game the United States is "supposed to" lose. Let's not play along.
Wood, Nagbe and Pulisic are ready. Start them now.