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How should the USMNT line up vs Mexico?

Pulisic? Scally? Busio? MMA midfield, CB pairing...

Soccer: 2021 Concacaf Nations League Finals-USA at Mexico Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

The November roster is out. The USMNT plays Mexico on Friday in Cincinnati, and Jamaica at “The Office” in Kingston next Tuesday, the 16th. The first two World Cup qualifying windows have had 3 games each, with 2 rest days in between. This window has just 2 games, and 3 rest days between. Rotation won’t be as crucial as it has been to this point.

Let’s take a look at the roster, with an emphasis on positional flexibility.

Gregg Berhalter will be looking to field the strongest team possible vs Mexico. The choice between Matt Turner and Zack Steffen in goal will depend on how much Gregg wants the team to play out of the back, with Turner the better shot-stopper, but Steffen better on the ball.

Miles Robinson seems like a lock to start, but will Gregg pair him with Chris Richards or Walker Zimmerman? This is a similar choice between defense-first (Zimmerman) and ability to build out of the back (Richards). Antonee Robinson appears to be the clear starter at LB.

Could Joe Scally make his USMNT debut by starting in a World Cup qualifier vs Mexico? He certainly could, and his form in the Bundesliga suggests it wouldn’t be a bad idea at all. Gregg may opt to go with the “safer” option in DeAndre Yedlin, who is on a yellow card and will miss a match next time he’s cautioned.

The MMA midfield practically picks itself, but Gianluca Busio has thrown his hat into the ring for consideration based on strong performances for Venezia in Serie A. It’s almost impossible to imagine Adams or McKennie starting on the bench, so that leaves Yunus Musah competing for a spot with Busio. Musah is a better athlete, and Mexico will be a physical contest. Musah’s athleticism also helps the team defensively, and his ability to drive forward with the ball at his feet can cause problems for Mexico. Berhalter has said Busio is pushing for a starting spot, and if Gregg opts to start Busio, it will be due to his quick, incisive passing and on-ball ability in tight space. If Busio doesn’t start, he’s a compelling option to bring off the bench.

Ricardo Pepi is not coming into this camp in top form, as he was the prior WCQ camps, after missing time with FC Dallas due to a knock. However, he is almost assuredly the starter up top, since no like-for-like striker was called up. Jesús Ferreira is the other nominal striker on the roster, but plays a different style than Pepi, one that would require tactical shifts. Gregg has also said Tim Weah could lead the line, but Weah seems more needed on the wing, especially with Pulisic’s status uncertain.

And that brings us to the central debate of the starting XI: should Pulisic start against Mexico? Starting him would certainly be a risk, but it could pay off for Berhalter if Pulisic is able to navigate El Tri’s defense without aggravating the injury he just recovered from. Thomas Tuchel has pleaded with Gregg not to overuse Pulisic, and his argument makes sense. Pulisic is historically injury-prone, and has played just 23 minutes in 2 matches for Chelsea since returning from an injury that kept him out for 2 months. Those 2 matches are 2 of only 4 he’s appeared in for the Blues this entire club season. Lastly, Mexico will not hesitate to hack and foul Pulisic, and there’s little confidence any Concacaf official will protect him by justly adjudicating cynical fouls.

Regardless of Pulisic’s status, Brenden Aaronson appears to be a lock starter. If Pulisic and Aaronson are employed on the wings, that opens the door for Weah to play up top at the 9. Otherwise, Aaronson and Weah appears to be the best pairing of wingers. Gregg Berhalter named Paul Arriola in his starting lineup all 3 times out last month. Will he continue to lean on the winger who has just 8 goals and 5 assists in 42 caps for the MNT?

Here’s what the starting lineup could look like vs Mexico:

So much of the Jamaica lineup will depend on the Mexico result. Particularly important will be whether Weston McKennie or Tyler Adams pick up a yellow card in Cincinnati. With three rest days between the two games, it’s entirely possible we could see the exact same starting XI twice, except any injuries yellow-card suspensions. One benefit of the USMNT’s superior depth is that a player like Gianluca Busio could come in fresh to start in Kingston, especially if McKennie or Adams are out suspended. If those two are both unavailable, Gregg will be forced to turn to Kellyn Acosta, Sebastian Lletget, or Cristian Roldan, unless he opts to drop a member of his forward line into the middle, such as Aaronson or Ferreira.

How would you line up for these two matches? What tactics should the USMNT employ to maximize their points this international window?