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What does an ideal USMNT lineup look like?

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Our staff has its say.

Mexico v United States - FIFA 2018 World Cup Qualifier Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

The hypothetical situation put before each of us was what is the ideal Starting XI, in a must-win, neutral-site game held sometime in the next few months. We each searched our inner Bruce Arena and came up with the following rosters.

Adnan Ilyas

I wanted to put the USMNT into a lineup that I thought would be most stable. The decision for me came down to whether I wanted an extra player at striker or in midfield. I went with midfield for a bit more solidity in possession and defense. From there, I valued cohesiveness in my player choice. The obvious omissions are Dempsey and Altidore. While Dempsey is the best player in the pool after Pulisic and Altidore (in my opinion) is a better striker than Wood, I felt that they were not well suited enough to the formation to start. Altidore just ends up too isolated alone. With Dempsey's unusual skill set, I just didn't know where to put him that would really work. But because they are so talented, the two would be the first off the bench for me. I would be willing to swap out a handful of players for alternatives, particularly Acosta and Villafaña. Acosta could be swapped for Bedoya, Lletget (when healthy), or Feilhaber. Villafaña can be swapped out and, with Johnson pushed back to fullback, I could see Jones, Morris, or Manneh out left (with different roles between them).

Subs: Bingham, Dempsey, Altidore, Manneh, Kljestan, Besler, McCarty

Phil West

First off, did BeIN really try to make Pulisic, Altidore, and Clint as the “PAC Men” happen on my TV in the pre-game show last Tuesday? In honor of his new Brazilian-style name (and in honor of him scoring four goals in two crucial Hex matches), he’s in my Starting XI in his optimal second striker role—one of the few USMNT outfield players who are still in the “you know who to slot exactly where” category. (Though by World Cup ‘18, I feel like he’ll best be suited in a supersub role anywhere Arena needs to inject energy along the front five.)

Villafana’s refreshing competence at left back means we can partner him with Fabian Johnson along the left flank, and Yedlin still gets my nod at right back. The centerback play of Brooks and Gonzalez against Honduras reinforced for me that’s our best pairing. Pulisic is more a natural winger than a 10, but Pulisic has the best instincts, vision, and ability to create key passes of any American on the roster, and I believe he could grow into the 10 role admirably, for a team that desperately needs a true 10. Plus, putting Nagbe on the right flank allows Pulisic to veer wide when occasion calls for it—a flexibility that Lletget would also give us.

Bobby Wood’s better than Altidore at creating on the fly and not getting left on Too Far Forward Island when midfield cohesion breaks down, so he gets my nod here. And though I believe Kellyn Acosta is the heir apparent in front of the back four, captain and future USMNT coach Michael Bradley, despite his current inconsistency, provides intangible heart, and as long as he plays deep and defense-first, he is the consummate glue guy.

Subs: Guzan, Cameron, Altidore, Acosta, Zardes (until Lletget returns), Zusi, Feilhaber.

Rob Usry

Formation: My team’s shape would start out in a base 4-2-3-1 with the capability to shift to the diamond if the situation in-match calls for it. In such event, Bradley would shift to the base of the midfield, Acosta to the right, and Pulisic to the point.

Backline: I’m still a firm believer that to get our most talented players on the field that Fabian Johnson has to play left back. Does he prefer midfield? Yes. Is he more effective in midfield? Probably. Am I biased and want Darlington Nagbe in the lineup? Most definitely. The rest is self-explanatory with last summer’s backline reuniting to provide chemistry and familiarity. And Tim Howard because Tim Howard.

Midfield: Michael Bradley is not as reliable as he used to be. Michael Bradley is still the best option we have. I liked the look of Nagbe and Pulisic on the wings in a tough environment in Panama. If the midfield had done a better job of winning the ball and letting them have more freedom it could’ve been very effective. Let’s see it again in more agreeable conditions.

Attack: I love Jozy Altidore to death. I’ll go to war for that man. But, there’s just no denying that his streakiness is infuriating. Bobby Wood has earned the starting nod with both his club and international play. As for Clint Dempsey, it doesn’t really matter where you line him up on a graphic, he’s going to be where he wants to be. Until he stops scoring goals at an amazing rate, he’s in my best lineup.

Subs: Brad Guzan, Jorge Villafana, Walker Zimmerman, Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan (Lletget), Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore

Donald Wine

When we face a big-time opponent in a big-time match, I want a lineup that includes a healthy mix of youth and experience, speed and possession, and defense and attack-minded players. Tim Howard is the man I want between the post. Simply put, he’s the best and there’s no one I feel more confident in right now on the big stage. On defense, our best CB pair by far is Geoff Cameron and John Brooks, with DeAndre Yedlin’s speed at right back and Greg Garza on the left.

I think we will be best in the midfield with Michael Bradley at the back of the diamond and Christian Pulisic heading it, with Darlington Nagbe and Fabian Johnson on the wings. There, we’ll have speed, creativity, and possession. Up top, Clint Dempsey is easily the one guy I want starting a big match at striker. The guy will find the back of the net and plays with no fear. At the other striker position, I have Bobby Wood based on form. I trust him to make the runs and finish at the net.

As for substitutes, our second best keeper in the pool is Bill Hamid and that’s why he is the backup. Bruce Arena will have several defensive options on the back line, with DaMarcus Beasley and Steve Birnbaum and Cameron able to play spot duty at wingback if necessary. In the midfield, Sacha Kljestan, Paul Arriola and Kellyn Acosta can play several positions and provide speed, creativity and balanced possession. Up top, Jozy Altidore has performed well as a supersub at striker and with his experience, who better to bring on when you need a goal.

Subs: Hamid, Acosta, Altidore, Arriola, Beasley, Birnbaum, Kljestan

Timm Higgins

Minus Nagbe, this is pretty much the same XI Arena put ran out for the 6-0 rout of Honduras, I wanted to play more to the realistic side when it came to the starting lineup with some changes. Nagbe goes to the bench in favor of Fabian Johnson - also no Dempsey in the starting lineup. I like the partnership that Wood and Altidore cultivated while Dempsey was out. So, Deuce starts the match on the bench, to keep him fresh for late in the match. At the top of the diamond is Pulisic, the 18-year-old wunderkind from Hershey PA. Give him the keys the car, let him be the playmaker that he is. He’ll give fits to the opposing defense, thus creating Havoc allowing Altidore and Wood to do their thing.

To be honest I wrestled with who to start at the bottom of the diamond. I penciled in Dax McCarty but I decided to go with Bradley instead. I think he can do an adequate job sitting in front of that back four and be able to distribute the ball and act as a lone pivot. If he can’t keep up, with this roster there’s Perry Kitchen waiting in the wings.

Subs: Bill Hamid, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris, Perry Kitchen, Kellyn Acosta, Darlington Nagbe, Matt Besler.

Three newcomers for the bench, with Hamid, Kitchen and Besler. Dempsey would be the ‘super’ sub off the bench. Overall, I believe this is a pretty solid squad both in the XI and on the bench.

Jared Young

If this game is in June I have to have Dempsey because he proved again that he scores the big goals. And to get the best out of Dempsey I need to pair him with a striker, and my striker is Bobby Wood. While Jozy Altidore has 14 goals for the USMNT this cycle, over half of them have come against minnows and none of the goals were particularly big ones. Wood is in strong form and I like him a touch better in a winner take all matchup.

Pulisic is the creative force and I want him central and that requires the 4-4-2 diamond to ensure some help for Bradley. With Klinsmann gone we can put Fabian Johnson in the midfield and be done with it. I want the younger Darlington Nagbe over Jermaine Jones on the other side. I just don’t think Jones is impacting the game at this point.

Cameron and Brooks are the best options at center back and have the ability to get a goal as well. Yedlin is the right back and I was impressed enough with Jorge Villafana to insert him at left back. Howard is our goalie until someone else steps way up.

Subs: Altidore, Bedoya, Jones, Guzan, Chandler, Ream, Gonzalez

*Note: Please share your thoughts in the comments. In the coming days, we’re planning an interactive post that would allow the entire community to have their say to create a cumulative USMNT lineup.