The U.S. men's national team returned to the field on Friday with, ummmm, let's call it a less-than-ideal result against Mexico.
After a 3-0 drubbing at MetLife Stadium against their chief rivals, the USMNT packed up for St. Louis – a city freshly awarded an MLS expansion side – to prepare to face South American powerhouse Uruguay on Tuesday (8 pm ET | FS1, TUDN, Univision).
In the process, the squad dropped from 26 to 20 as Christian Pulisic, John Brooks, Weston McKennie, Zack Steffen, Alfredo Morales and Sean Johnson left national team duty to return to their clubs early. Pulisic, McKennie, Steffen and Morales all started against Mexico while Brooks was held out with groin tightness and Johnson sat behind Steffen.
Without a number of key players on a squad already missing Tyler Adams, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Tim Weah before sending home the half-dozen already mentioned, Gregg Berhalter's starting XI against Uruguay could be unique. That's anywhere between seven and nine strongest XI starters, depending on personal preference.
Here are three different ways the USMNT lineup graphic might look.
It's what we're looking for in these friendlies: Reasons for hope.
Hope is conveyed across different vessels, be it an encouraging result, individual performance, passage of play or moment. Taking something forward, particularly in a squad missing so many key players, is imperative. If any players from this youthful and experimental team show they're ready for this level, then great.
In particular, we'll be clamoring to see Josh Sargent, Paxton Pomykal and Miles Robinson in the starting XI. None started against Mexico, while Pomykal didn't get off the bench made his senior national team debut.
More minutes from Sergino Dest, please, and let's see Jackson Yueill at defensive mid, with two all-action, industrious midfielders in front of him, too.
What I want to see
Already having given Dest 90 minutes at left back against Mexico, returning him to his natural right flank on Tuesday night might be in cards. Finally giving Nick Lima a run at left back, with the pool's deficiency in that position, is a natural progression.
Lima has played a ton of left back for San Jose, and though Berhalter wants his crossing ability on the right flank, his left foot ain't useless and cutting in for inswinging right-footed crosses ain't useless, either. Plus, an inverted underlapping run could further isolate Tyler Boyd 1v1 out wide, situations he thrives on.
Pomykal getting his first senior cap is a no-brainer, though the data would be more important if he was able to slot into a near-first choice XI alongside Pulisic, McKennie and others. The on-ball ability between he and Sebastian Lletget, and either could function as the creator and box-to-box center mid at any given time, would make for an interesting partnership in front of Yueill.
What Berhalter might do
Who knows? Such is the nature with projected squads and lineups. We're not in training, we're not in the meeting rooms and the plans aren't always made public, as good at Berhalter can be at communicating to the public.
It would be a shame if Sargent was called to the senior side but didn't start either game – borderline malpractice, particularly with this game in his hometown of St. Louis.
It's possible Pomykal doesn't get the start, though, given neither Cristian Roldan nor Lletget started against Mexico. Berhalter's comments leading into the camp were more about seeing the FC Dallas youngster and U-20 World Cup standout in the senior team environment, possibly hinting at a cameo off the bench.
The backline, where the most players remain from the initial squad, is a toss-up. Keep Long and Zimmerman together as the first-choice pairing rolling into Concacaf Nations League next month? Give Robinson a start next to one of them? Let Tim Ream return to center back? Another start for Dest? If so, which side? Lima or Cannon? Guzan or Gonzalez?
Tune in Tuesday to find out.