First off, let's take US men's national team head coach Gregg Berhalter at his word:
🗣 “...I’d imagine the team vs. 🇨🇷 is going to be a mix of age-eligible Olympic guys and full #USMNT players.”— U.S. Soccer MNT (@USMNT) January 30, 2020
- Gregg Berhalter on his potential lineup for #USAvCRC on Saturday pic.twitter.com/lYEFbscCsk
The roster he's called for Saturday's friendly against a similarly young and short-handed Costa Rica has 13 Olympic-eligible players out of the 22 total. I don't think all of them will see playing time, but I do hope that Berhalter goes with the idea of creating useful combinations – seeing how two or even three players at crucial spots work together in concert as a way of building chemistry ahead of Olympic qualifying, which takes place in March down in Guadalajara.
At the same time, reliable veterans like Aaron Long, Sebastian Lletget, Paul Arriola and Gyasi Zardes aren't here to just get tossed into the trash. Forget Olympic qualifying – World Cup qualifying itself starts in nine months, and chances are all four of those guys (and a few other of the non-Olympic eligibles on this roster) will play major roles.
So Berhalter's got to use this game for two different purposes. To that end, here are the two different lineups I'd like to play each half:
Some bullet points:
- Lletget and Zardes deserve to start. They earned it with their 2019 performances – right up to and including that big, dominant win over Canada to end the year. As of now Lletget's the No. 10 and Zardes is the 9, and it's up to guys like Paxton Pomykal, Richie Ledezma, Josh Sargent and others to beat them out.
- I want to see the Long/Walker Zimmerman pairing. Given the way Matt Miazga has backslid over the past eight months and given John Brooks' propensity for injury, Long and Zimmerman can expect to play a lot of minutes together.
- Chase Gasper is "young" in that last year he was a rookie, but is actually too old to be eligible for Olympic qualifying. I still want to see him for 45 minutes, though.
- You could talk me into Bill Hamid or Matt Turner starting over Sean Johnson. I'm sanguine about all of that.
And here's what I'd like to see for the second half:
- I've kept the starting wingers and No. 10 out there because I want to make sure Jesus Ferreira gets a fair shot at proving he can do the No. 9 job at this level. Let's see him with what I think would be considered this camp's version of the starters.
- Reggie Cannon and Jackson Yueill are the two U-23 eligibles at this camp who are the closest to being full-time members of the USMNT (I'd argue Cannon is already there). They need to show veteran leadership and poise, and to stand out the way, for example, Lletget did at this time last year. So they're going 90.
- Christian Cappis and Brandon Servania are both long-term No. 6s who have spent most of their careers thus far playing as No. 8s. I'm fine with giving one half to each/either, and if Yueill struggles I wouldn't hate seeing each/either given a shot to play his regista role.
- I need to see Justen Glad & Mark McKenzie together for a half. Almost every other U23 eligible CB – Cameron Carter-Vickers, Auston Trusty, Miles Robinson, etc. – is a question mark for the qualifying tournament for one reason or another.
- Getting to see Jonathan Lewis and Sam Vines work together on both sides of the ball is potentially illuminating.
- These are five of the six subs that are usually allowed in friendlies. I'm happy going in whatever direction – Brenden Aaronson at the No. 10, Uly Llanez on one of the wings, some sort of switch in goal – that Berhalter decides for the final sub.
And so here we are. The nightmarish 2010s are over and hopefully a better decade has begun. It'll start for real with Olympic qualifying in March, but we can get a big taste of how that's going to go from what we see on Saturday.