The underdog role will be in full effect due to the mighty Three Lions dismantling the Iranians 6-2 in the group’s first game. This is the ultimate test for the USMNT against one of the World Cup favorites.
My formation and player selection were spot-on for the 1-1 Wales draw (except for the striker spot), but now I expect the tactics of this 4-3-3 system to be slightly altered.
Here’s how I see Gregg Berhalter’s team lining up, where a point goes a long way for next Tuesday’s Group B closer against Iran. Knockout round places are on the line.
Against England, the US should play with two holding midfielders – Tyler Adams and Yunus Musah – and with Brenden Aaronson as the sole attacking midfielder to provide balance and protection in front of our back four.
This means it’s Weston McKennie to the bench, able to sub on later. He didn’t look at his best in the attacking phase of the Wales game and is carrying a yellow card. If the Juventus man is 100% fit and sharp, then he is starting without hesitation. But with the amount of running and high-intensity defending needed in this match, it makes sense to give Weston more time to be ready for Iran. Set pieces will also be key against Iran; England already exposed that weakness and Weston’s great in the air.
With Aaronson playing as a lone attacking midfielder, as a traditional No. 10, that puts Musah and Adams in a double pivot. Yunus is not known for his defensive qualities, but he can start lower and dribble out of pressure. He’s quick to provide cover, plus his ability to drive forward with the ball past defenders could make him lethal in transition.
Weah at the No. 9
I’m in favor of seeing Tim Weah get a chance at the striker position. He has exhibited strength, speed and intelligent runs. First, the run on his goal (from outside to in) and his timing … simply fantastic. The finish vs. Wales was composed and smart, as if he has played the position for years at this level.
Against an English team that plays a high line and often leaves their center backs in 1-v-1 situations, I like the idea of Weah playing off the shoulder of Harry Maguire, Eric Dier or John Stones with his pace. The threat to get in behind may create more space for the midfielders underneath to operate in.
This all means Josh Sargent, after a few good actions in the match against Wales, heads to the bench. Sargent’s hold-up play on the buildup to the lone goal was crucial, and the near-post run that saw him flash a header off the post was encouraging. Generally, he did a good job of checking to the ball and being an outlet with a simple one-touch pass to a teammate, but I would have liked to see him be more threatening.
Bring on Reyna
With some controversy, and citing injury concerns, Gregg didn’t sub on Gio Reyna against Wales. But the young, talented Borussia Dortmund midfielder would be a huge asset against England because he can play well in tight spaces and because of his vision.
Starting the 20-year-old plays into the theory of getting all of your best players on the pitch at the same time. His mazy run at Estadio Azteca in World Cup Qualifying can never be forgotten. It also tells me Aaronson and Reyna could work very well together with synced-up movements. They can interchange to create disruption, with Aaronson’s patented runs into the channel opening more space for Reyna as he moves inside. Reyna prefers to play central and this movement will get him there closer to the goal as well.
Gio is ready for this World Cup moment.
• Before the Wales encounter, the center-back pairing was in question. It’s not anymore. Tim Ream was locked in alongside Walker Zimmerman. The Fulham veteran looked comfortable on the ball, he took good angles with his defending and was looking to pass forward in between the lines instead of the typical east-west pass we've been accustomed to seeing from USMNT center backs.
• The US had patience in trying to break down a low block from Wales. Berhalter’s team took its time switching the field, waiting to find an opening. There was a balance in the way they got into the attacking third.
• Weah showed just how important he is to the attack. His runs open up the field and he is a constant presence. Gregg needs verticality from his squad and Weah is one of the very few players who can offer it.
• The US were relentless in the counter-press. They did a fantastic job in the first half of recovering the ball after a loss of possession or forcing Wales into a predictable pass. The entire team looked in sync with the press.
• I thought Christian Pulisic was active vs. Wales. It was good to see him getting touches and working to break down a deep-defending group. On Weah’s goal, we got a glimpse of how dangerous the Chelsea attacker can be when running off a striker who exhibits strong hold-up play. Pulisic running at a retreating backline and delivering a perfectly weighted pass to Weah was brilliant. That sequence is when he is playing to his strengths.
The USMNT dominated possession for most of the Wales match (finished about 59%-41%), while Gareth Bale’s team opted for a defensive approach.
Now, expect England to control the tempo and possession. That’ll force the US to defend in a low block for large portions of the match, which Ream and Antonee Robinson carry out weekly with Fulham.
It took about 12 minutes for Iran to finally connect passes in England’s half. Iran managed just 21.9% possession and 215 passes, of which 66% were accurate. The US numbers there won’t be as drastic, but don’t expect a 50-50 shake either.
England’s attacking threat
England pose a totally different threat than Wales, who played long balls and lacked imagination. The style of play was very predictable, which made the game easier for the USMNT backline to read.
The England attack features Harry Kane, Bukayo Saka and Raheem Sterling – three huge stars in the EPL. Kane can play off the back shoulder of the center back, but can also play facilitator by dropping into the midfield in hopes he can pull central defenders out of position. The three-time Premier League Golden Boot winner with Tottenham can make the killer pass, too.
On the wings, England torment defenders with frightening movement and confidence on the ball. The left-footed Saka has been a sensation with Arsenal when playing on the right wing. He naturally tends to cut inside on his dominant foot, but can just as easily beat you on the dribble down the line.
Saka is gifted at playing a wall pass, which the US’s Fulham pair of Ream and Robinson know well, after having to already deal with that this year in a late 2-1 loss to Arsenal.
England’s outside backs, Kieran Trippier on the right and Luke Shaw on the left, both fly forward when the wingers come inside and provide another layer of attack on the flanks. As if that was not enough firepower for a squad, you then have Marcus Rashford, Jack Grealish and Phil Foden coming off the bench.
Against Iran, England opened themselves up for counterattacks and at times were careless in their build-up play. That means Pulisic, especially, will have space to run into. On England’s first goal they had five players in the box before Bellingham guided Luke Shaw’s cross into the net. If the USMNT can get Pulisic on the ball in those moments when England are most vulnerable, it could bear production.
The US can grab a result against England with resolute defending, execution on set pieces and a counter-attacking approach – that trio could prove to be the difference. When they defend as a collective unit, they have what it takes to challenge the best. A result is there for the taking, despite all of England’s strengths.