For US men's national team head coach Gregg Berhalter, his team's friendly with Panama on Monday will be a balancing act.
On one hand, the Yanks are a young group with plenty of players looking to get minutes to prove their worth going forward. On the flip side, there's only so many more matches before World Cup Qualifying, meaning there's a need to get his first-choice group and rotations solidified soon.
That was one topic of discussion ahead of Monday's match, with Berhalter telling reporters on his Sunday video call that those are factors he's weighing as he assesses who will see the field come kickoff, and how different the lineup will look from the one he fielded in the USMNT's 0-0 draw against Wales.
"When you look at it, when I first took over, we're switching guys left and right," Berhalter said. "Now as you're getting towards this time, you start to feel the urgency. When you think about it, this group won't [be together] until March again. And then potentially Nations League, doubtfully Gold Cup. So we're basically going to have four more games together after this game. That's a small number. For us, it is crucial that we get guys playing together, we get guys comfortable with each other, so that's definitely part of it.
"I think this is a great opportunity for some of the guys that aren’t as familiar with Concacaf opponents to get that experience, so for us we’re really happy with this game," he added. "We’re going to continue to try to build on what we had last game. So it will most likely similar but with some slightly different personnel."
Highlights: USMNT 0, Wales 0
Coming off the Wales match, much of the postgame chatter centered around Berhalter's decision to start LA Galaxy midfielder Sebastian Lletget as a false No. 9, in lieu of a pure center forward like youngsters Sebastian Soto or Nicholas Gioacchini.
That's one thing that could stand to change against Panama, with Berhalter saying the opportunity should be there for at least one of the young forwards to get some minutes, and that he's been pleased with what he's seen from Soto and Gioacchini in camp.
"The level has jumped a little bit, and these are guys that are getting used to it," Berhalter said. "You see both of them have, I think they strike a ball really well. Sebastian’s movement is good behind the line. Nicolas is a little bit more powerful. So I think both of them have some good attributes. And now it’s about them just getting used to what we’re doing, and getting to the speed of this level because it is a different speed.
"I hope they both get the opportunity tomorrow to show, and I think as of now we’d look to switch to a more traditional striker tomorrow, so I’m sure there will be a chance for those guys."
Overall, Berhalter said that a better showing on the attacking end is the biggest point of improvement he's looking for building off the Wales match. While the Yanks did a good job of limiting Wales' chances and seeing out a clean sheet, they didn't generate many meaningful chances, only mustering one shot on goal.
"I think there’s certainly room to improve. On the defensive side I think it was really strong," Berhalter said. "But when we have one shot on goal in a game, that’s not enough. So there to me there is a lot of room to improve on the offensive end. I talked before the game about stretching the defense and I didn’t think we did that nearly enough. If we do play with a false 9, it’s imperative that the wingers are run-behind-the-line wingers and I didn’t think we got that enough.
"I just think we can improve, we’re focused on competing to win the game and we want to score goals. So we’ll see what happens tomorrow, but it’s going to be a similar concept of moving forward from mid-block to high-press and trying to create some chances to score goals."