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United States-Mexico Preview: Starting Steffen Indication Berhalter Staying with Familiarity

Gregg Berhalter has his preferences in tactics and keeper though neither have given us much reason to be confident.

Syndication: The Columbus Dispatch Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch / USA TODAY NETWORK

The United States Men’s National Team continues their 2022 World Cup Qualifying campaign tonight in Cincinnati against Mexico followed by the second and final game of the international break on Tuesday Nov. 16th at Jamaica.

This is an important stretch for the USA, who sit second in the standings three points behind Mexico. Losing tonight would put significant pressure on the USA to win on the road against Jamaica and make it all but impossible for them to catch El Tri with a late trip to The Azteca in March 2022 which is the final group of qualifying fixtures.

Gregg Berhalter and his squad should be looking for six points from this window which features only two matches this time around. Qualifying continues in late January-early February when the USA plays vs El Salvador, at Canada, and vs Honduras.

HOW TO WATCH

Kick-off: 9:10 p.m. Eastern

Venue: TQL Stadium, Cincinnati

Available TV: ESPN2 (English). Univision (Spanish), TUDN (Spanish)

USMNT ROSTER

PROJECTED USA LINEUP

4-3-3: Zack Steffen; Antonee Robinson, Walker Zimmerman, Miles Robinson, DeAndre Yedlin; Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie, Yunus Musah; Brendon Aaronson, Ricardo Pepi, Paul Arriola

MATCH PREVIEW

Let’s get his part over with. Yes, we here at TBM stan Matt Turner starting for the USMNT. Arguments that Steffen is the better overall player because of his technical/foot/distribution skills are less impactful when the the USA is simply bad at building up from the back and shouldn’t be playing that system.

But that is the system Gregg Berhalter wants, and that’s the system that has struggled mightily all summer. Despite the results at the Nations League final, Gold Cup, and even during qualifying so far, the USMNT have often looked poor in this possession based system. They’ve been out pressed, far to slow going forward, and unable to break down packed in defenses consistently to generate chances.

I’ve been saying this for months, the USA is a press and counter team and are infinitely more effective when they get out on the break then when they try and break down a team with eight or more players behind the ball. I don’t expect Mexico to sit back that deep but the point stands.

Zack Steffen’s opening minute decision in the USMNT’s last match against Costa Rica to come off his line 25 yards to head a ball cost the USA a goal and nearly the game. Matt Turner has lost one game during his MNT tenure, a 1-0 loss in Panama where the USA generated nothing offensively and gave up a goal on a corner kick that featured some of the most horrific set piece set piece marking ever.

That doesn’t mean Steffen can’t help lead the USA to a victory, he certainly can, but if the USA’s possession based Berhalter-ball system can’t dominate and break down CONCACAF teams, it’s not going to work at a World Cup a year from now. Which means Turner’s ridiculous shot stopping numbers and current form and playing time are more important than what Steffen can do with the ball at his feet.

Turner’s distribution, particularly his long throws are exactly what this USA team needs more off - balls that bypass lines of the defense and create openings to run and counter. The slower the USMNT is on the ball and in the build up, the more that is an advantage for Mexico and just about anyone else. Combine that with Turner’s familiarity with his Gold Cup centerbacks likely to start tonight (Miles Robinson and Walker Zimmerman though Zim didn’t finish the tourney due to an injury) and it makes this decision remarkably baffling.

Not everything Berhalter does though is bad from a tactical standpoint however, I do really like the midfield triangle of Adams-McKennie-Musah. Said triangle just needs to be more aggressive or be allowed to be more aggressive and combine better as a unit rather than relying on winning individual battles or one-on-ones on the dribble. In previous games with Antonee Robinson and Sergino Dest overlapping, one of the midfielders would drop in to cover the marauding fullback going forward. With Dest out, the US is likely to focus down the left more which isn’t necessarily a bad thing and it should allow the midfield to stay central and combine on the ball.

With Yedlin and Arriola as a possible right sided combination, I’m actually kind of excited for this. It’s a high work rate, high pressure combination that’s going to take away a lot of options for Mexico going forward and hopefully generate some turnovers and quick switches to the left side to open up space. Arriola is here to do a job and whether or not that job translates to a World Cup level is not relevant right now cause we need to get to the World Cup first. Arriola understands spacing and movement arguably better than anyone else on the roster and that is an asset assuming the rest of the team can play quickly enough to exploit what Arriola creates off the ball.

Brendan Aaronson and Ricardo Pepi get another chance to impress from the get go and in particular I’d like to see Pepi on the ball more. Being a goal poacher is great but the US will need more from him than just goals. Aaronson has been a rising star and thoroughly deserves his spot in the lineup and maybe so even when Gio Reyna or Christian Pulisic are healthy. Expect Pulisic to come in for the final 20-30 minutes or so on the wing, likely for Arriola if the USA is chasing and Aaronson if they’re winning.

One more final note - Berhalter can’t get the first half wrong like he has so many times recently. The United States has been able to overcome slow starts and have comeback from being down but it is a worrying trend and quality teams like Mexico and those at the World Cup will be able to take over and control games. There can’t be a rush of subs to fix things after every first forty-five minutes and you shouldn’t expect Pulisic who’s barely played this Fall to rescue you off the bench.

The USA need to get out on the front foot at home and be aggressive with their intentions from the start. Otherwise it could be a very long week and far more troublesome qualifying run.