USMNT: Five lineup questions after November friendlies

Two friendly games and a handful of training sessions aren't a lot of time for head coach Gregg Berhalter to get a lot of answers about the state of the national team, but they'll have to do in 2020 for all the reasons we know.

Berhalter got to see up close -- and in some cases meet for the first time -- 10 uncapped players called into the November camp, nine of whom played. The 0-0 tie with Wales and 6-2 win over Panama underlined the potential of Berhalter's team and also its limitations.

There's still about 10 months to go before the start of the Octagonal, Concacaf's new World Cup qualifying tournament, and here are five key questions that need to be answered.

1. What position for Sergino Dest? At 20, Dest is already a lock in the U.S. lineup and a key the U.S. attack. He looked more comfortable at right back, where he started against Wales, than at left back, his position in the win over Wales.

What is making Dest the likely left back, though, is that if it's a matter of playing him opposite Reggie Cannon or Antonee Robinson, the choice is an easy one. Cannon at right back remains a much better option than Robinson at left back.

The important thing is that Dest is in the lineup, not where he plays. He started for the USA at right back at the U-17 and U-20 World Cups but made his first appearances for the senior national team, Ajax and Barcelona on the left side.

2. Who'll be the second center back alongside John Brooks? The Wolfsburg defender was the lone holdover from the 2014 World Cup team in the November squad. He was 21 when he came off the bench and scored the winning goal in the opening win over Ghana in Brazil and six years later is clearly the best U.S. central defender. But what about the other starter in the middle of the backline?

Starting for Belgium's Anderlecht under Vincent Kompany, one of the best defenders of his generation, Matt Miazga might be in his best situation since his move to Chelsea but he still looked very shaky in the Panama game. Chris Richards is the best young defender in the national team program but he only got 10 minutes against the Canaleros. How Richards progresses this season at Bayern Munich -- indeed, how much playing time he gets -- will one of the situations Berhalter will be looking at closely over the next six months.

3. Will Yunus Musah commit to USA? Few American fans ever heard of Musah a couple of months ago, but he's at 17 already a lock in midfield -- if he commits to the USA. There's no guarantee that Musah will pick the USA over England, whose youth teams he has captained, or Ghana and or Italy, but he has the tools to be the best No. 8 ever in the U.S. program.

Against Wales and Panama, Berhalter used Weston McKennie and Musah as a twin central pairing in front of Tyler Adams. McKennie was everywhere on the field against Wales and Panama and clearly an inspirational player on a young team needing leadership, but Musah, four years younger, has a better upside and is a better option in midfield if Berhalter finds a No. 10 he trusts.

4. What role for Gio Reyna? One of those options as an advanced midfielder is Reyna, who turned 18 less than a week ago. He has played as a central playmaker at Borussia Dortmund but also as a winger in the BVB attack with Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho.

The USA had no one like Haaland or Sancho in the lineup against Wales or Panama, so Reyna's game suffered. He was one of three starters in the front six who earned their first caps against Wales and the average age of the front six against Panama was only 19.5.

It will take time for Reyna to fit into the U.S. attack, but Berhalter views his role like he views Christian Pulisic's role. "We want to put him in position, and put Christian in a position to affect the game, and have output.” Berhalter said that before the Wales game and nothing will have changed his view after the two games.

5. Who will play center forward? The outlook at no position -- at least in terms of potential -- has changed as much over the last four months than at center forward.

For the last two years, the three options -- really the only serious ones -- were Jozy Altidore, Gyasi Zardes and Josh Sargent. But Ayo Akinola and Daryl Dike have been revelations in MLS and Jeremy Ebobisse continues to defy the critics with another strong season for Portland.

Sargent would have started against Wales and Panama, but Bremen wouldn't release him due to local quarantine restrictions. That opened the door for a pair of 20-year-olds, both playing second division soccer, Nicholas Gioacchini at Caen in France and Sebastian Soto at Telstar in the Netherlands. All Gioacchini and Soto did against Panama was score two goals apiece, the former in his first start, the latter in his first cap.

"It was really important for both of them," Berhalter said after the win. "When we talked last week about the depth chart of the center-forward position being limited, we said any chance you get, you need to take. And these guys did a good job tonight."

Photo by GEPA/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

23 comments about "USMNT: Five lineup questions after November friendlies".
  1. Guy Walling, November 19, 2020 at 8:21 a.m.

    Need to see how these youngsters perform against stiffer competition. Yes they looked good playing up against Panama, but still need to play stronger in the center, especially in the back 3rd. 

  2. Wooden Ships replied, November 19, 2020 at 10:06 a.m.

    Agree with you on the defending third. In the article the question is asked who will pair up with Brooks? Sure, that's to be asked, but we should be looking at his replacement too. All are subject to injury, some (Brooks, CP) more so than others. As for stiffer competition for our younger players, not sure that is a real dilemma, as some of our older players don't have their skill level or physical abilities. In other words, I believe them already to be our best, youth not withstanding. They are training and playing in quality leagues and atmospheres. 

    I'm leaving Dest where he's most familiar and effective, RB. Reyna somehow needs to stay central, mostly. Musah appears to be a great get. Forwards, I'm pleased to see the two young guns do well and feel confident, with Sargent still my go to guy, what each requires are playmakers. No more Altidore or Zardes, period, these other guys are BETTER. 

    A mistake in the last two friendlies was leaving Steffan in the nets the entire time. We need depth throughout and not using call ups is not long thinking. Lletget was a wasted call up. Nice player, but come on. 

  3. frank schoon replied, November 19, 2020 at 12:28 p.m.

    Shipps ,i like to see Lleget as a back...he looks strong can handle ball for a defender probably better., got size and has Turbo......who knows? At least try him there...I don't know much about him, I would have to study him better...

  4. Seth Vieux replied, November 19, 2020 at 2:29 p.m.

    I think Brooks's back up will continue to be Tim Ream, but agree there needs to be a better succession plan emerging soon as Ream is already pretty old, but is a pretty decent one for one replacement in what they bring at LCB. My guess is it's Mark McKenzie and won't be surprised if he's ahead of Ream soon if he isn't already. Hopefully transfer talk of him going to Europe pans out. And on that note, by far the most experienced group on the field against Panama were the CBS, and also clearly the weakest spot, so think there's plenty of evidence that the young boys are acquitting themselves quite well even if they aren't first team regulars on the strong clubs they're with.

  5. Seth Vieux replied, November 19, 2020 at 2:37 p.m.

    While I'd love for Dest to be at his 'more comfortable right side,' until I see something more from Antonee Robinson I definitely feel that Cannon is the better option and he's doing quite well at Boavista. Dest plays plenty on the left side for Barca (and DoD at Ajax as well) so it's not like he's weak over there, and clearly a better option at LB than Robinson is so why not go with the better player in Cannon at RB who is more defensively reliable than either Dest or Robinson and still does pretty well going forward?

    I am actually kinda bummed for Horvath. Definitely hoped to see him out there against Panama. Guys been on Brugge's first team for a few years now and has always done a good to great job for them when he's called on, including in some really important games. Steffen seems fine, but just don't see how his body of work justifies a stranglehold on the #1 spot when Horvath has some awfully good performances under his belt, including recently.

  6. frank schoon replied, November 19, 2020 at 3:17 p.m.

    Seth, yes, Dest can play the leftside but is he more effective than on the rightside for the a righfooted player. He plays on the left at times for Barcelona only if Alba is not available.
    Cannon ,thus far, I'm not impressed with and I don't know what really brings on the right side that Dest does so much better. I can't believe Antonee Robinson is even out there...not impressed with him one bit...

  7. Seth Vieux replied, November 19, 2020 at 3:34 p.m.

    Frank, and there in lies the problem / discussion! Dest is obviously a FAR better player than any other US fullback, and as he is so much better than anyone else on either side it kind of becomes a competition between all others regardless of which side they play to see who gets to start with Dest. Cannon may not knock my socks off, but to me he is comfortably ahead of Robinson and probably the next best option in the entire pool is Tim Ream at LB! The MLS LBs we've run out there in the GB era have been basically useless in attack and defense. There are some promising teenagers but none seem even close to breaking through yet. My opinion is that Dest upgrades LB significantly more over Robinson than he does RB over Cannon (though still a big upgrade). Robinson seems only to bring speed in attack, so if he's getting caught out of position when Dest is such a huge part of the attack on the right we're going to have far more problems than Cannon playing a more traditional (and I think competent) RB.

  8. frank schoon replied, November 19, 2020 at 3:49 p.m.

    Seth, with CP on the leftwing for speed we don't need another runner, Robinson. Yes, Dest is not a runner a la Robinson. Dest on the leftwing doesn't do much for building up from the back ,for Dest has less options due to not only being right footed but he is situated in a manner that often he will have to pass back to Ream or whoever the left centerback is. All I'm saying Dest on the left limits his abilities not to himself but to the team.

    We are missing a good leftfooted leftback, that's what we miss. Note ,there is noone in the MLS or playing in Europe. The sad case in that we don't breed good passers ,who control and dictate on the left ,all we get are Turbos...We can hustle ,fight and run with the best of them but we seem not to create players with a calmless in play and vision which allows our better to function even better....

  9. frank schoon replied, November 19, 2020 at 3:52 p.m.

    Seth ,I meant to say we are missing a good leftfooted lefthalfback

  10. E Velazquez replied, November 19, 2020 at 7:29 p.m.

    Paul Kennedy: please renew your thoughts : lets don't mention  the names of Altidore and Zardes again, These players had their opportunity but, they failed and disappointed the entire nation

  11. Wooden Ships replied, November 19, 2020 at 7:40 p.m.

    Frank, that's an idea for Lletget, converted back. But, his club team would need to do the experiment first. 

    E, let's not leave out Bradley. 

  12. frank schoon, November 19, 2020 at 10:01 a.m.

    We ,right now,  have an abundance of young in experienced guys. This is one of the problems. A national team should have seasoned players and will bring along a young player but he has to be a good player in the league. A young player will have the backing of the older experienced players, for this is how Ajax brings along a youth player on the first team. But unfortunately we don't have that strong foundation to undergirth the young inexperienced players on the national team.  

    We're talking about Reyna who just turned 18 as a big factor on the team which should not be the case in other national teams, for a young player would play just to give him some experience. Reyna ,to me, has much to learn for he so many mistakes. Unfortunately, we don't have good soccer commentators who know the game and therefore fail to give critical analysis of what a player is doing wrong. All you get is ,'oh he's playing in Europe and look how good he is, already". In Holland commentators ,former players, right away show what he's doing wrong, and as a result the viewers are not only being educated but also know what to look for in what he's doing wrong. Are viewers here, are privy to much of the necessary 'insightful details' of the game due to lack of good commentators

    We have NO LEADERSHIP on the field among our players, there needs to be a hierarchy. There needs to be a couple of players who with their presence and playing experience to be leaders. I don't see that. It is so obvious, when you have Reyna, who just turned 18, taking all the direct kicks, you'll never see that on the Dutch or any other National team. At 18 you keep your mouth shut and you let older more experienced ,better players take care of business. If he's the best on the team to take the direct kicks then we must really be technically hurting. In other words, is there is no one else but a kid who just turned 18 to take the kicks. I"m not picking on Reyna,but showing the situation we're in. And this is why I find the Panama game such a waste of time for I rather would have seen them play a good seasoned team in order for us to LEARN. Instead we are ecstatic seeing one of our players that plays 2nd division in Holland score. You know how bad the 2nd division soccer is in Holland. It is not really a second division, for Ajax and some other pro teams send their top youth team to play in that division. Feyenoord of Rotterdam doesn't even have a team in the 2nd division, they don't even bother....NEXT POST.

  13. frank schoon, November 19, 2020 at 10:41 a.m.

    Dest, to me, when you consider where he has learned the game and developed and where he has played and is playing, is ,to me, the best 'footballer' on the MNT, hands down.  The problem I find with him is that he shows no leadership out there, he just sort of does he job, CP, idem ditto. It takes a certain personality to be a leader and that doesn't mean that you have to be the best player. A good way to discover a good leader is how individuals react in group setting  like during lunch,  you can  ascertain players that other players are drawn too, very subtle. It is the same when Cruyff decides who will start. He watches during the warm ups and if you're not noticeable to him than you won't start. You need to have 'presence' out there, and if he doesn't notice you , you don't start. It is a subtle.

    What I don't find in this article when choosing a lineup, IS WHO BEST FITS TOGETHER, in a particular lineup, that should be first talked about. Next how can we employ each player's STRENGHTS to the fullest. Well, we have to take our best players first. Of Dest, which flank is he the most usefull, left or right, the right ofcourse, for the rightside allows Dest  to be turned open and faces downfield anytime he receives the ball, he's right footed and thefore can penetrate all the way to the endline and able to cross the ball. Furthermore on the right side, Dest able to switch field faster and is better suited for short give and go passes, if needed. The other player CP should stay on the leftside ,up front, opposite, for that is where he feels comfortable. The two most 'advanced' players, Dest and CP, balance the attack, thus forcing the opponent's backline to be kept spread out because the best players are at opposite end of the field. You don't want Dest and CP on the same flank for the opponents can just flood to one side.

    Next, who will play the outside halfback position. On the leftside , you NEED a leftfooted halfback ,for he's able not only to switch the field of attack diagonally. He also will have two options in passing to CP, able to pass behind the opponent's rightback for CP to run onto employing speed or to CP's feet and let him take on the rightback. A rightfooted, lefthalf is not good as far tempo and flow of the game. Furthermore have noticed that whenever we have an all RIGHTFOOTED players on the leftside the diagonal crosses towards the penalty area are not accurate, they are always placed too far ahead of the attacking going out of bounds....This is why we need a leftfooted halfback to balance the flow of the attack in short and long passes.     NEXT POST...

  14. frank schoon, November 19, 2020 at 11:03 a.m.

    Never allow a left footed lefthalfback to take the throw-ins for his leftfoot is situated in manner that you can make a quicker attack downfield which is not the case with a rightfooted halfback for he need a little more time. We have to realize we do have Turbo type players and if you look on our right player like a McKennie who  attacks needs to have a leftfooted lefthalf not only for the passing angles but also for the quickness of the pass is much better suited for our attack on the other side of the field. 

    Also, on thrown-ins, we need to employ the third man. The thrower needs throw the ball not to the closest player to him but one furter away behind him. The near man makes a run as the ball is thrown over him to the second man, who one-touches to the runner. Another thing I don't see is quick counter attacks from throw-ins. In other words, opponents don't think about counter attacks , they are placed in a frame of mind that the ball is gone to be thrown and therefore relax defensively. This is when you catch them offbalance, flatfooted ,thus surprise them with our Turbo by making fast run downfield... The other problem I see at times is that our  back is taking the throw-ins when the backs are usually the ones never guarded, so why waste him on the throw-in.

    Step by step, we need to look at the individual STRENGHS of each player in how they fit together and not pick the players who all play in Europe and are supposedly better....That is not how you make a line up...

  15. Seth Vieux replied, November 19, 2020 at 3:26 p.m.

    Frank I'll be interested to see if having Pulisic on the field makes Antony Robinson look a little better out there. Fingers crossed they'll pose a lot of problems to defenses working together on the left and provide even more opportunity for Dest on the right, but until I see it I'm not getting my hopes up. Ultimately I think you'll see Dest continue to play on both sides depending on the players available and the coach's intentions, just like he's done for his club teams.

  16. frank schoon replied, November 19, 2020 at 3:36 p.m.

    Seth, I agree with you but, Robinson does nothing for CP. The important aspect is who directly plays behind CP, lefthalfback, and two CP needs to play the leftwing as leftwing and not come back to midfield to clog things up. CP needs a passer behind him that can send him to do what CP is best at. Robinson is clueless, he just a runner with very limited abilities and furthermore CP should not depend upon Robinson to get passes from him for it places him in awkward situation. It should be the halfback, that is where we need to work on, a player who doesn't need to make runs but can deliver good balls to CP and to the other side.

    I would like to see them try Lleget  to play back for his some offensive abilities, for he is not good enough to play up front. Who knows what that brings for I really think he would be much better than Cannon ,especially in the opponent's  third

  17. Seth Vieux replied, November 19, 2020 at 4:17 p.m.

    Definitely understand what you're saying there Frank, the only hopes I have for Robinson on the left fullback until he develops quite a few more tools is that CP likes to dribble inside after receiving the ball wide, and if Robinson can effectively read his cues could provide some danger overlapping CP to get through. No other LBs save Dest have the pace to look for that option. Need to see more from AR to even know if he'll be able to effectively pick out good passes / crosses if he's able to get lots of time and space out there. Definitely a limited position for us, and ultimately GB may opt to put Ream there always staying home for defensive cover and reasonable build out play and just hope CP offers enough danger on the left combining only with the 9 and 8/10. A stay home left fullback would also allow Adams to take a more advanced level as the 6. No easy answers unfortunately.

  18. beautiful game, November 19, 2020 at 2:20 p.m.

    USMNT fortunes are best accomplished with the young players. Any intension of denying their development by keeping the likes of Altidore and Bradley et al would be a disservice in advancing and strengthening USMNT growth. As for leadership, my nomination would be for Pulisic who has shown his passion & tenacity to succeed.

  19. frank schoon replied, November 19, 2020 at 3:19 p.m.

    BG, passion and tenacity does make one a leader....actually that has nothing with it....

  20. Wooden Ships replied, November 19, 2020 at 7:46 p.m.

    Bg, CP at this point is a no go for me. Really like his impact for the US, but not his expressions and complaining. Tyler Adams is more suited. Either way, a few candidates are needed. 

  21. Bob Ashpole, November 19, 2020 at 3:08 p.m.

    I actually prefer Ream to Brooks. Only playing 1 keeper was a coaching mistake. 

    Where to start Dest is not the problem. The problem is we need more depth at fullback. And more left footed players.

    The team has to have some veterans to supply leadership and mentoring, even if they don't start.

  22. Kevin Sims, November 19, 2020 at 8:36 p.m.

    Strikes me as a pretty accurate assessment of the state of affairs. Musah full of promise, but will need quite a bit of polish yet to be considered a first-choice player. Finding the legit striker poses the stiffest challenge. USA! USA! USA!

  23. R2 Dad, November 19, 2020 at 11:53 p.m.

    I'd like to see us in a 4-2-3-1 against a top opponent.  Can our defense hold and still attack in the final 3rd, and press when necessary? Or if GB is going to let WM run all over the place maybe a 3-2-3-2? So much to figure out as far as team chemistry goes.  

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