Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, and then what? The only other sure starters for the United States might be Fabian Johnson and Jermaine Jones, but even then, there are questions. Fitness issues mean US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann might talk himself into an XI missing one or both of those stalwarts. And as for the rest of the seven positions, they go from ‘one clear favorite,’ to ‘depends on the setup,’ to ‘nobody has a clue.’
It makes predicting Saturday’s XI akin to an 11-team parlay. You may have a good feeling about six, maybe seven spots, but to get to 11 correct picks, you’re going to need some luck. The sure (im)probabilities of the task mean you’ll likely end up wrong.
We’d never put you in that position. Instead, we want to know who you would start when the US faces Mexico. There’s no getting behind Klinsmann’s steel blues. Instead, let’s worry about what we know to be true – the XI we know would beat Mexico.
Use the comments to tell us who you think should start, and if you need a refresher on the squad’s current state of play, here’s how each position breaks down before tomorrow’s showdown:
Brad Guzan is the number one. Klinsmann has said as much. But in the rearview mirror is the man who abdicated the job after Brazil 2014, the man many think is still the best goalkeeper in the pool – Tim Howard. The Everton goalkeeper has not started since his legendary 16-save performance against Belgium at the last World Cup, but if Klinsmann truly believes the 36-year-old his best backstop, a winner-take-all match against Mexico would be the perfect time to put him back in the starting XI.
Nick Rimando is also on the roster, but he’s not in serious contention to start.
As Steve Davis pointed out, things are a bit of a mess at the back. The center backs are constantly rotating. The first choices fullbacks have either been hurt or trying to retire. Nobody is truly distinguishing himself at club level.
Let’s work from left to right:
- Klinsmann continues to talk up the importance of DaMarcus Beasley, who had previously tried to ride off into the sunset. But he was convinced to come out of retirement, and now, based on his experience and performances with the Houston Dynamo, the 33-year-old may be the team’s preferred option. Fabian Johnson and Tim Ream are other potentials at the spot, but given Johnson may be needed elsewhere and Ream has yet to start a big game under Klinsmann, Beasley is the favorite.
- In the middle, John Brooks would be a likely starter, but he’s injured and not with the team. Ventura Alvarado has been getting the nod in recent friendlies (as well as at the Gold Cup), but his performances have left the door open. Can Matt Besler reclaim his spot? Will Klinsmann opt for Geoff Cameron, who has been playing center back at Stoke? Michael Orozco, Jonathan Spector, Ream and even Brad Evans can also play in the middle, but with Omar Gonzalez not being called in, whatever pairing Klinsmann chooses will be a relatively new one. As for a real wildcard: What happens if the Jermaine Jones, center back experiment is suddenly rekindled?
- On the right, Fabian Johnson is the likely starter, but it’s possible he will be pushed into midfield, which means somebody like Evans or Spector could get the call. DeAndre Yedlin is also an option, but Klinsmann has continuously lumped him in with the midfielders. Cameron, too, could slide back out to right back, one of Klinsmann’s favorite spots for him, but that may depend on whether the U.S. boss thinks an Alvarado and Besler pairing could work in the middle.
It would be shocking if Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones weren’t starting. Where Klinsmann goes from there, however, is anybody’s guess.
- Three-man middle: One option is to play three central midfielders, with an anchor below Jones allowing the ranging Revolution disruptor to be freed from protecting the defense. If that happens, Kyle Beckerman, Danny Williams or Cameron could end up in the starting XI, with Beckerman being the odds on favorite. The other option for a three-man middle: Play Jones as your deepest midfielder and use Alejandro Bedoya higher up. Most attempts to get Jones, Bradley, and/or Bedoya balanced in the middle of the park have failed.
- Two-man middle: If you ask Jones and Bradley (with a little help from Clint Dempsey) to hold own the middle, then players like Yedlin, Gyasi Zardes and Graham Zusi would find spots in the starting XI. Bedoya looks like a probably starter, regardless, but who Klinsmann tabs for the other midfield spot is less certain. Zardes or Fabian Johnson on the left with Bedoya on the right seems like a possible scenario.
Clint and Jozy. Jozy and Clint. When they’ve been healthy and in form, they’ve started, and although there have been questions about both regarding form and health, the squad’s other options hint the duo will start.
Chris Wondolowski is unlikely to see the starting lineup on Saturday (he wasn’t started at the World Cup, when Jozy Altidore was hurt), while moving Zardes into a forward role would come at the expense of one of the team’s two established goal scorers. This is Jurgen Klinsmann we’re talking about — anything is possible — but it’s still unlikely we’ll see Clint Dempsey and Zardes starting up top.
Steve Davis: Guzan; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley; Beckerman; Jones, Bradley; Bedoya, Dempsey; Altidore
Kartik Krishnaiyer: Guzan; Johnson, Cameron, Ream, Beasley; Williams; Bedoya, Bradley, Zardes; Dempsey; Altidore
Richard Farley: Howard; Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley; Beckerman, Jones; Bedoya, Bradley; Dempsey; Altidore
Let us know who you think should start … and why your lineup can beat Mexico.
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