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How should the USMNT rotate for January WCQ?

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The roster is out, and we’re past the halfway point in qualifying. Let’s discuss potential approaches.

Mexico v United States: 2022 World Cup Qualifying Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images

Gregg Berhalter’s 28-man USMNT roster has been revealed for the penultimate 2022 World Cup qualifying window. Here’s the schedule:

  • El Salvador at home Thu, Jan 27 in Columbus, OH
  • Canada away Sun, Jan 30 in Hamilton, Ontario
  • Honduras at home Wed, Feb 2 in St. Paul, MN

Here’s the roster:

Berhalter has said that since travel is less severe this window, it’s possible some players may be able to start all three games, which limits the need for rotation.

Approaches

There are two major questions that essentially determine how you line up this window:

  • Can we afford to rotate somewhat for the home games? If you think we can comfortably beat Honduras and/or El Salvador at home without our best players, that frees us up to go strong vs Canada. However, if you go strong and leave nothing to chance at home, you have to rotate at least a little for Canada.
  • Do you play an “iceball” lineup in any of the games? Weather could be a huge factor both in Hamilton and St. Paul. If you choose to start a lineup specifically geared to playing a completely different style, that likely frees you up to use stronger lineup(s) in the other game(s).

Tyler Adams and the Yellow Card

Tyler Adams is carrying a yellow card. Next time he receives a yellow card, he will be suspended for the following match. There’s been a lot of game theory going around about whether Tyler should be rested to prevent missing an important game, or pick up a yellow on purpose in order to time his potential suspension optimally.

Resting Adams to avoid him missing a match is illogical. By sitting him on the bench, you’re doing exactly what the suspension would do, with the threat of future suspension unchanged. Having him take a yellow on purpose makes a little more sense, but then you could run into issues if he picks up any more yellows the rest of qualifying. Having him miss multiple games due to card accumulation is the worst possible scenario.

Weah’s fitness and vulnerability

Tim Weah returned to play just in time to make this roster. He has 89’ under his belt: a 22’ sub appearance, and a 67’ start. So he’s fit to play at least 60’. However, the weather may also be a limiting factor for young Timothy. Exposing a player who just recovered from a muscle injury to extended minutes in freezing-cold temps is a great way to re-injure him. Berhalter will need to be judicious in his use of the budding star attacker.

Summary

With all that said, here’s my approach. The home games are absolutely critical. They MUST be 3 points each. With that in mind, I start the strongest possible lineup in games 1 and 3. If El Salvador is completely overmatched in the first game, that allows substitutions to rest key players like Pulisic, Dest, and the MMA midfield trio, enabling them to play a larger role vs Canada, perhaps even starting.

Perhaps nearly the entire team will be able to start all 3 games without performances suffering. That would be fantastic, but I have my doubts. So I’m laying out a heavily rotated squad for Canada, with hopes of more of the A-team being fit and available. I don’t go with a full “iceball” lineup for Canada, but it is a different approach.

What do you think? How would you rotate the squad this window? Let us know in the comments.