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Turner Likely To Start as USMNT Begin Pivotal Week of Qualifying

DeJuan Jones didn’t make the roster for qualifiers but had a solid camp as Turner, Lletget and the USA face a week where seven points is the minimum.

USMNT Training Photo by John Dorton/ISI Photos/Getty Images

The United States Men’s National Team resumes FIFA World Cup qualifying tonight with the first of three matches during this international window.

Today, Jan 27, 7pm EST - vs El Salvador, Field, Columbus, Ohio (ESPN/Unimas/TUDN)

Sunday, Jan 30, 3pm EST - at Canada, Tim Hortons Field, Hamilton, Ontario (Paramount+/Telemundo/NBC Universo)

Wednesday, Feb 2, 730pm EST - vs Honduras, Allianz Field, St Paul, Minnesota (FS1/Univision/TUDN)

As always, TBM’s campaign for Matt Turner as the United States #1 keeper regardless of Zack Steffen’s status continues unquestioned as the the New England Revolution keeper puts aside a rumored link to Arsenal to man the net for the US again.

Alas, Steffen’s status at least for tonight against El Salvador is known, and he’s not even stateside as he is dealing with a back issue.

If Steffen isn’t able to go for the Canada match, it would seem foolish for him to even fly in, allowing the MLS trio of Turner, Sean Johnson and Gabriel Slonina to be the keepers on the roster for a pivotal stretch for the USA. It would be likely that Turner would start all three qualifiers though if they claim wins against El Salvador and Canada it wouldn’t be unfair to give Johnson the game against Honduras with a nearly entirely rotated lineup.

The next three games are vital for getting separation in the standings with home games against the two last place teams in the Octagon/Ocho in El Salvador and Honduras and an away game to Canada. The two home games are must wins and ideally Canada just has to be a not lose even though it wouldn’t be devastating to the US qualifying campaign.

But a big week of results here would mean less pressure in the final week of qualifying in late March where the USA faces a gauntlet at Mexico, vs Panama, and at Costa Rica. With four teams clustered in the top half of the standings, sweeping all nine points would do wonders for the US setting up an automatic berth rather than perhaps needing three results next month as well.

We should know by the end of this week the scenarios for the automatic berths, largely based on the Costa Rica-Panama match tonight. A loss by the Ticos at home combined with the rest of the top half getting their expected results tonight could all but guarantee Los Canaleros a spot in the top half and at worst a spot in the World Cup playoff against Oceania (i.e. New Zealand).

The key for the US will be how Berhalter rotates his squad for the heavy work load of three games in a week. The best part is, ideally anyway, that the US shouldn’t have to play a full strength squad in the two home games.

The USA has a variety of wingers in the squad led by Christian Pulisic, but I’ve been very impressed with Brendan Aaronson in his recent games with the USA. With Timothy Weah back in the mix along with a healthy Jordan Morris joining MLS veterans Arriola and Lletget, there should be plenty of opportunity to go around to save legs especially late in games. I doubt either Ricardo Pepi or Jesus Ferreria could start the first two games and go 90 minutes so I’d expect them to platoon in some fashion with Gyasi Zardes a capable late game option.

The McKenzie-Musah-Adams midfield is really only needed fully against Canada and if all three start against El Salvador tonight I wouldn’t want all of them finishing the game unless it was necessary. The US should have enough attacking options at the start and off the bench to win going away but El Salvador has given them fits in the past. Some good counters should be enough to deal with any resistance from Hugo Perez’s much improved national side.

The best case scenario for the week plays out as follows: Berhalter trots out the majority of his best lineup tonight, gets a couple of early goals, subs off his stars to keep them fresh for Canada, beats Canada with his best lineup, and then beats Honduras with a heavily rotated lineup with the stars off the bench if needed.

But the USA must also plan for some contingencies, such as coming out flat against El Salvador and needing to dig far deeper than preferred to get a win. In this scenario, I think it would be wise for Berhalter to hold back one his big midfielders for the second half tonight. Given the cold weather conditions for all three games, expect a heavy rotation from the fullbacks and wingers not just in the starting lineup for all three games but off the bench as well. I’d also like to see the USA deploy a conventional 4-2-3-1 with Pulisic in the middle at some point but my guess is Berhalter will stick with his preferred 4-3-3 formation.

Anyway, it was great to see DeJuan Jones get a camp callup even if he didn’t make the qualifying roster. The Revs left back has certainly played well enough to earn a look even if he remains a deeper option in the player pool. An added bonus was the link up with new teammate Sebastian Lletget and it seems the two combined well on the left side of the field which may be an good indicator of things to come for the Revolution in 2022.