Who Should the United States Start against Honduras?
The United States Men’s National Team faces Honduras in CONCACAF World Cup qualifying tomorrow, and coach Bruce Arena has several crucial lineup decisions to make. There’s a possibility that he’ll trot out a mediocre and lackluster lineup that won’t possess enough skill to impose its will on Honduras. After a rash of injuries, Arena has called up several mediocre and unexciting players like Graham Zusi and Chris Wondolowski as replacements, and only Zusi is a possible starter.
Tim Howard will definitely start in goal, and he should start in goal. Arena has to play musical chairs with his defense as his starting right back DeAndre Yedlin is injured, and this injury could force Arena to move his starting right center back to right back, which forces Arena to start someone else at right center back. These means that the Back Four could be from right to left: Michael Orozco, Omar Gonzalez, John Brooks, and Jorge Villafaña. Both Gonzalez and Brooks are tall enough to be prone to being wrong-footed and thrown off balance by quick and crafty attacking players, and Villafaña hasn’t been a regular starter for Santos Laguna, his club team. Maybe letting Walker Zimmerman start at center back isn’t as risky as using Gonzalez and Brooks in the center of the defense.
Once Arena figures out his defense, his Front Six of four or five midfielders with one or two forwards has better options. Michael Bradley will play as the defensive midfielder, and starting Kellyn Acosta as the box-to-box midfielder would be an inspired choice. Acosta has been active and decisive in all of his games, and since Acosta is even netting free kicks from outside of the box, just how risky is starting him? Acosta is exactly what Bradley needs: a skilled and athletic box-to-box midfielder who can truly play the position correctly.
If Bradley and Acosta start as the holding midfielders, then Arena can start Sebastian Lletget, Clint Dempsey, and Christian Pulisic as the line of three attacking midfielders behind Jozy Altidore or Jordan Morris. There is lots of public and media support to start Darlington Nagbe on the left wing with Pulisic in the middle, but Nagbe doesn’t really use his left foot. Starting Lletget gives the U.S. a better passer, a better 1v1 player, and more of a scoring threat.
Not starting Dempsey against Honduras seems crazy. Dempsey has played 90 minutes in each of his first three games this season for the Seattle Sounders. Pulisic will probably be the U.S.’ best player within one or two years, but Dempsey is still far and away the best American player with the exception of Bobby Wood, who is injured.
Why wouldn’t Arena start Dempsey? Whatever Arena does, he must be sure to field the players who can keep possession, create scoring opportunities, and score.
World Soccer Source backs the starting of this lineup: Howard; Cameron, Zimmerman, Brooks, Villafaña; Bradley, Acosta; Lletget, Dempsey, Pulisic; Morris.
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard
Right Back: Geoff Cameron
Center Back: Walker Zimmerman
Center Back: John Brooks
Left Back: Jorge Villafaña
Defensive Midfielder: Michael Bradley
Center Midfielder: Kellyn Acosta
Right Wing: Sebastian Lletget
Attacking Midfielder: Clint Dempsey
Left Wing: Christian Pulisic
Striker: Jordan Morris