Three points are there for the taking, and they’d prove hugely beneficial before upcoming tests against England (Nov. 25) and Iran (Nov. 29) decide which of Group B’s two teams make the knockout stages.
Here’s how I see Gregg Berhalter’s team lining up at Ahmad bin Ali Stadium, using the same 4-3-3 formation that got them through Concacaf Qualifying and to Qatar in the first place.
Christian Pulisic is always going to start this game; the Chelsea FC forward needs to meet the moment now.
But in my mind, I have hesitations over the position occupied by Borussia Dortmund attacker Gio Reyna. I gave him the nod over Leeds United’s Brenden Aaronson and Lille’s Timothy Weah. Gio is the superior player with the ball at his feet, so the US will need to get him involved and keep him active.
It’s hard to imagine a player like Aaronson, who’s playing consistently in the Premier League, not getting the start. The former Philadelphia Union homegrown star is highly regarded for his pressing, work rate and running off the ball. He’s impressed since his move to Leeds, but because of the depth in these attacking positions, he’s unfortunately the 12th man.
I think Aaronson has a better chance to start against England because the tactics will change against the group favorites. The amount of running needed for the counterattack and the importance of getting pressure to the ball sets up favorably for Aaronson against the Three Lions.
Weah saw his stock rise tremendously in World Cup Qualifying because of his pace, directness and ability to stretch backlines, which are traits lacking in the player pool. This match won’t desperately need a winger to make deep runs, because Wales will not offer that space in behind with a five-man backline.
I had hesitations over the No. 9 spot, but Jesus Ferreira gets his chance to lead the line in the first game of the World Cup. The FC Dallas homegrown forward will need to stay high and play off the defenders' shoulders to set up the space when he does decide to check in between the lines.
The USMNT will need to find Ferreira’s feet and it will be his responsibility to find the players running off of him. We’ve seen the 21-year-old find good spots in front of goal, but sometimes proved wasteful in the buildup to the world’s biggest tournament. Now, it’s Ferreira’s chance to come good and repay the faith shown in him by Berhalter.
The USMNT will need to control the midfield if they’re to get a result against Wales, who were knocked out by Brazil’s Pele in the 1958 quarterfinals during their last World Cup appearance. The Dragons’ return trip is 64 years in the making.
The MMA trio of Yunus Musah, Weston McKennie and Tyler Adams has the edge against an older and out-of-form Wales midfield. If the US can dictate the tempo by keeping possession through sharp passing, limiting fouls in dangerous areas and winning the ball back quickly to neutralize counter attacks, that’ll be enough to come away with a good result.
The only concern is McKennie’s health as he recovers from a thigh injury he suffered with Serie A’s Juventus. I’d start him if he’s good to go, while Musah’s had a strong season at LaLiga’s Valencia and the same goes for Adams with Leeds.
I expect Wales will play a bit more defensive-minded in this game. Their pragmatic approach will lead to direct play.
Wales could opt for placing attacking players Daniel James and Brennan Johnson on the flanks to exploit the space left by USMNT outside backs Antonee Robinson and Sergiño Dest. The Fulham and AC Milan defenders love to get forward, so they’ll need to be careful about threats going the other way.
That may leave Gareth Bale as Wales’ lone striker, which I believe would be better for the LAFC MLS Cup champion to thrive when considering his fitness issues and the limited running required as a No. 9 in their formation.
Let’s not overthink this one: Matt Turner, the former New England Revolution star who moved to Arsenal in the summer, is this team’s No. 1. That’s especially true after Berhalter left Zack Steffen off the roster.
Turner’s shot-stopping is going to be so important in Qatar.
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