The Extratime crew has settled on a (mostly complete) starting XI for the US men’s national team, who are rapidly approaching a busy summer that includes Concacaf Nations League semifinals.
Head coach Gregg Berhalter’s team will face Honduras June 3 in a semifinal, then advance to a final third-place match June 6 depending on how they fare against Los Catrachos. The USMNT will also encounter Switzerland in a May 30 friendly in Europe before returning stateside as the inaugural Concacaf Nations League winner gets decided.
By going against Honduras, the USMNT will have a non-friendly game for the first time since a November 2019 Concacaf Nations League Group A finale against Cuba. The past four months, they’re 5W-0L-1D upon returning to action after a lengthy layoff due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After much debate on their "Club and Country" epsiode, here is Extratime's projected starting XI:
The co-hosts kicked around Fulham’s Antonee Robinson and Colorado Rapids homegrown Sam Vines as other left-back options, but ultimately settled on Dest. The FC Barcelona fullback can play on either side and brings exciting attacking qualities from wide areas.
While Dest could feature on either flank, MLSsoccer.com’s Matt Doyle prefers Dest on the left with Reggie Cannon then on the right.
“He's been awesome at left back for the US every time that he's lined up there and Reggie Cannon has a stronger track record with the national team than either Antonee Robinson or Sam Vines,” Doyle said. “So if we're looking at these as must-win games, don't you want to go with the guy with a track record?”
Brooks (Wolfsburg) and Long (New York Red Bulls) were tabbed as first-choice in central defense, with Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC) and FC Dallas academy product Chris Richards (on loan from Bayern Munich at Hoffenheim) floated as other possibilities.
Co-host David Gass addressed Richards’ possible inclusion, though feels the 21-year-old is probably a few steps away from the starting XI.
“I don't think there's a way for him to get there by June and probably not by September,” Gass said. “I have made the point on this show that the way John Anthony Brooks plays for Wolfsburg, Walker Zimmerman probably makes sense stylistically as a partner for him. But if he's not going to get the opportunities, I'm not going to throw him out there in a huge game when Aaron Long has played well and performed well alongside Brooks.”
Cannon, a former FC Dallas homegrown, got the nod at right back. Dest could slide to the right and former Seattle Sounders homegrown DeAndre Yedlin has settled nicely at Turkish side Galatasaray, but the 22-year-old could have an inside track as lineup decisions unfold.
Even still, co-host Andrew Wiebe hopes that Cannon can round into form while at Portuguese club Boavista FC.
“Reggie doesn't look at the same level that he maybe had last year at times for the national team,” Wiebe said. “You got to ask whether the move to Europe and the club that he went to and all the upheaval there has been the best thing for, I'm not going to say for his development, but just for stability. It doesn't seem to be that way.”
With Adams in a deep-lying role and McKennie and Musah in the advanced No. 8 spots, Wiebe feels the midfield group is locked in.
“What an incredibly fun, young, dynamic midfield that [has] vision and ability and the ability to break people and hold the ball and move the ball,” Wiebe said.
But there’s always the chance that LA Galaxy standout Sebastian Lletget enters the starting XI, already proving he’s earned Berhalter’s trust. The 28-year-old is a USMNT veteran compared to his young teammates in Europe, and Doyle feels there’s value in that.
“If we had to live and die with these games, Sebastien Lletget would 100 percent be a starter for me, 100 percent be a starter for me,” Doyle said. “That's just if these were World Cup qualifiers, he would be starting. He's earned it. It would be over Musah, but in these games, because obviously they're big games but they're more as prep for World Cup qualifiers, it's Adams, McKennie and Musah because, in the long run, that is the trio with the highest upside. But if we had to win a game, there's no question that Lletget is out there in the starting group.”
While Chelsea star Christian Pulisic is a written-in-pen starter, likely on the left, there are a few different options on the right.
Gass raised D.C. United standout Paul Arriola as one option, while Doyle favors Lille’s Timothy Weah and feels Berhalter will ultimately go with Borussia Dortmund youngster Gio Reyna. It’s a good problem to have choices in attacking positions, too.
“For these Nations League games, to me, it is about getting reps with those top guys in the pool and, to me, that's Timothy Weah,” Doyle said. “He's just so good off the ball, he's such a smart player, he makes the entire system better and everybody around him better no matter what position he plays. No disrespect to Gio Reyna, who has a higher ceiling, he's not there yet. Weah, even when he's not touching the ball, is having a positive impact.”
The debate for right winger appears open, though, so it could boil down to form and matchups.
Striker is another position where different choices could arise, yet the Extratime crew went with Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent. The 21-year-old is playing consistently in the Bundesliga and understands Berhalter’s system.
“I think probably for this group, Sargent still gets the start because he's been around this group longer and he's had that opportunity and I think he played well, as I said, against Jamaica to maintain that spot for himself,” Gass said. “It's a question mark position because no one's really locked in, but also because there are a bunch of options. So it's kind of in that midway point between it's a good problem and a bad problem.”
Other options they floated were Young Boys striker Jordan Siebatcheu and Orlando City SC striker Daryl Dike, who’s on loan at Barnsley. An MLS-based option could surface, too, with Berhalter having built-in trust with Columbus Crew SC’s Gyasi Zardes.
“I think if someone had performed over the last year consistently at their club and then came and made sense for the national team, they'd be there,” Gass said.” We don't have that, but at the same time it's nice to have players scoring in the Championship and the Bundesliga that you can debate between, as well as Europa League now because Siebatcheu plays for Young Boys and has scored a bunch of goals in Europe.”