Who will, and who should the USMNT start vs. Canada?

Who will, and who should the USMNT start vs. Canada?

Gregg Berhalter won’t admit it, but as important as Thursday’s World Cup qualifying opener against El Salvador was, the U.S. men’s national team coach knew the tougher challenge was looming three days later in Nashville in the form of a dangerous Canada side.

That much was made clear by Berhalter’s decision to sit John Brooks, his best centerback, against El Salvador, and a cynic might wonder if Zack Steffen’s back spasms were merely a cover story for Berhalter’s preference of having Steffen available to face Canada.

Led by the dynamic duo of Alphonso Davies and Jonathan David, the Canadian attack can and will test the American defense in ways El Salvador simply couldn’t, and that knowledge has surely shaped Berhalter’s planning for September’s qualifiers.

The potential return of Christian Pulisic should help a USMNT attack that struggled to generate chances against El Salvador, and he shouldn’t be the only new starter plugged into the front five to try and capitalize on Canada’s vulnerable backline.

With all that in mind, here is the starting lineup we could see the USMNT deploying against Canada in Sunday’s World Cup qualifier in Nashville, as well as the lineup we would deploy if we were making the final lineup decisions:


Projected USMNT Starting Lineup vs. Canada

SBI’s Preferred USMNT Starting Lineup vs. Canada


GOALKEEPER


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Who will start: Zack Steffen

Who should start: Zack Steffen

If Steffen is healthy, he should start. Turner is in good form, and wouldn’t be a bad option, but Steffen’s superior passing and ball skills make him the choice if his back spasms aren’t an issue.


DEFENDERS


Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos

Who will start: Sergiño Dest, Miles Robinson, John Brooks, Antonee Robinson

Who should start: Sergiño Dest, Miles Robinson, John Brooks, Antonee Robinson

Tim Ream filled in admirably against El Salvador, but it’s time for Brooks to step in and be his imposing self against Canada’s dangerous forwards, which will have their hands full against a Brooks-Miles Robinson centerback pairing.

Canada’s speed on the wings is a problem, and a potential Alphonso Davies-Tajon Buchanan wing tandem will be a handful against any fullback pairing Berhalter chooses.

That said, Sergiño Dest steps his game up when facing tough challenges, and he got the better of Davies the last time they faced each other on international duty (in Nations League in 2019). Antonee Robinson has been in outstanding form for Fulham and should match up well against Buchanan.

If Robinson struggles, Berhalter could call on George Bello, who is no stranger to facing Buchanan from their battles in MLS.


MIDFIELDERS


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Who will start: Weston McKennie, Sebastian Lletget, Tyler Adams

Who should start: Weston McKennie, Sebastian Lletget, Tyler Adams

Brenden Aaronson struggled against El Salvador, which shouldn’t be a total shock given it was his World Cup qualifying debut, but the performance should strengthen the case for Lletget, who has experience in qualifying, and who also played well against Canada when the USMNT routed the Canadians in Nations League in 2019.


FORWARDS


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Who will start: Christian Pulisic, Josh Sargent, Gio Reyna

Who should start: Christian Pulisic, Jordan Pefok, Gio Reyna

Pulisic’s return should help open up space for Reyna to find gaps in the Canadian defense, while also potentially providing service for whoever Berhalter deploys at striker.

That striker should be Pefok, who showed some good glimpses in his second-half cameo against El Salvador, and because Josh Sargent simply didn’t play well enough on Thursday to justify another start.

Could we see Konrad De La Fuente given another start, which could allow Gio Reyna a chance to play in a central role? Plenty of fans may want that, but Konrad didn’t do enough against El Salvador to justify another start, and Reyna should play an important role on the right wing, not only keeping Canadian left back Richie Laryea honest, but also potentially providing service from the wing to Pefok, who is a threat in the air.


What do you think of our projected lineups? Who would you play at striker? What changes would you make to the defense?

Share your thoughts below.