The USMNT rotated seven players from game one (their 2-0 win over Jamaica) to game two this window. Particularly given the lackluster performance and result against Panama, expect a similar number from game two to game three. Last window, head coach Gregg Berhalter made five changes to the starting XI from game two (a disappointing home draw to Canada) to game three (a heroic comeback against Honduras).
Rotation came up numerous times on Berhalter's pre-match press conference on Tuesday and he didn't shy away.
“In terms of squad rotation, one thing I want to make completely clear is when I took responsibility for the result the other day, it was not aimed at the choice of players, because we believe in every single player in this squad and I don't regret in any moment playing that lineup," Berhalter told media on a virtual press conference Tuesday.
"I regret more our performance and some of the attacking adjustments we could have made in that game to be more mobile, to be moving more, but not personnel,” he added. “We say we're a group, and we say we're a team, it's the ‘next man up’ mentality. And unfortunately, we didn't get it done. But this game we're hoping to have a much better performance.”
Projected XIs are difficult in nature. No one really knows. It's particularly difficult in an era of condensed international windows with three games in six days, for players who have condensed club schedules and are traveling from all over Europe and the United States.
Anyway, here are three (well— two) options.
Matt Doyle's USMNT projected XI vs. Costa Rica
Editor's note: This portion of text originally ran in Doyle's post-Panama column, the full piece you can read here.
• I didn’t want anyone to have to play 270 minutes in this camp, but it looks like Zimmerman’s got to, right? I love Chris Richards, but it’d be a hell of a thing to throw him into a game as important as this one for his first World Cup qualifier experience.
• If Sergino Dest can’t go, DeAndre Yedlin gets the start over Moore at RB.
• If McKennie can’t go, it’s Luca de la Torre time in central midfield.
• Brenden Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi and Tim Weah should all have enough gas to go from the start.
• A win would most likely leave the US in second place, five points clear of fifth in the standings (barring an El Salvador home win over Mexico, which isn’t precisely unlikely, but is not what I expect to happen).
Dylan Butler's USMNT projected XI vs. Costa Rica
The only thing slowing the Pepi hype train was a Berhalter decision to rest him in Panama. Although Gyasi Zardes starting and possibly scoring at Lower.com Field is a nice storyline, riding the hot forward in Pepi makes the most sense.
The midfield trio of Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Yunus Musah is the strongest in this camp and they played well vs. Jamaica. The only change would be a fitness issue with McKennie, which would likely mean Luca de la Torre earning his first start of this window.
Tom Bogert's USMNT projected XI vs. Costa Rica
I had the fortune of going last after Dylan and Matt, long enough to stick around and see Charlie Boehm report that he's expecting to see Zack Steffen in net tonight. It seemed as if Matt Turner fully took over as Berhalter's No. 1 in goal, but it looks like we'll see some movement there.
Doyle noted it'd be quite the tough situation to throw Richards in for his World Cup qualifying debut... but last window James Sands made his first WCQ start in the third game. Zimmerman was perhaps the USMNT's only decent performer against Panama, but he ended the game immobile with cramps. The fullbacks seem to pick themselves, though there's the slight potential that Sergino Dest could play left back with DeAndre Yedlin starting on the right. Wouldn't bet on it, though.
The midfield seems straightforward if Weston McKennie is good to go. There hasn't been any indication that he is not. If he is not, like Doyle and Dylan noted, Luca de la Torre would be in line for his first start. Adams and Musah split the 90 minutes in Panama, ostensibly an indication they would both start on Wednesday.
In attack, Pepi is the obvious choice at No. 9 after being rested last game. Aaronson, too. Matthew Hoppe is probably more likely to come in off the bench, but Weah, like essentially all other USMNT players against Panama, wasn't exactly great. Would expect both Weah and Hoppe to play a part, regardless.