Friday, March 1, 2024

USMNT vs. Honduras: Three things to know, best starting XI ahead of vital World Cup qualifier

Another United States men’s national team day has arrived with the Americans facing Honduras on Wednesday in San Pedro Sula. The kickoff is set for 10:30 p.m. ET from the Estadio Olimpico Metropolitano, and you can see the match live on Paramount+. Things haven’t gone exactly to plan for Gregg Berhalter’s team leading into the match, dropping points against El Salvador and Canada while also dealing with the suspension to Weston McKennie, with the midfielder being sent back to Italy for breaking COVID protocols while in camp. 

Add to that the fact that Sergino Dest (ankle) and Gio Reyna (hamstring) are out injured, a point in this one may not be all that bad, depending on how they play Now the U.S. faces their toughest test in qualifying to date, going into the heart of Honduras under the lights against a team that has pace, creates a lot of chances and can make you pay on the counter. 

Remember, the U.S. needed an 89th-minute winner to beat this same team in the Nations League semifinals over the summer. Ahead of the game, here are three things to know and who Berhalter should start.

1. The formation needs to change

Something has to be done. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? Well, it seems broken, so something needs to be done to fix it. The U.S. continues to look off, lacks creativity in the middle and just can barely provide any service to the striker. Now, I’m not saying the right players are in this squad to be able to make it work, but you’ve got to take a shot. If they play like they did the last two games, they might not even get a point.

Berhalter has been willing to tinker with the formation in the past, and he’s going to need to do something a bit drastic here, I feel, especially considering the absences. Let’s see if he does and if it can pay off with a much-needed win. I would first start with the formation and to try and get a bit more compact in attack since they aren’t even really trying to play down the wings, but more on that below.

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2. Berhalter needs to be more reactive 

As I said earlier in the week, the fact that he waited until after the 80th minute to make his first real changes was borderline offensive. Canada were aggressive and went for the victory by bringing on two attackers, and in contrast it made Berhalter look hesitant and scared. That doesn’t exactly make you feel overly confident. But, hey, we all aren’t always at our best, and he still needs the backing and support of the fan base for that extra motivation. He’s a sharp, smart guy who seems to have been caught up trying to make a very inexperienced side work. Sometimes the fountain of youth runs dryer than the Sahara. At least give others a shot. 

3. Staring at an all-time worst start

If the U.S. loses on Wednesday, they’ll be off to their worst ever start in qualifying since the final hexagonal round (or in this case, octagonal) was introduced leading up to the 1998 World Cup in France.

This would be even worse than the start to the last World Cup qualifying cycle, where the U.S. had three points through three games and failed to advance. It would even be worse than the qualifying round for the 1986 World Cup, where the U.S. didn’t qualify but still had three points through three games at the 1985 Concacaf Championship. 

A loss here would see them sit at two points after three games, putting them on pace for just under 10 points in qualifying. It’s expected that 20 points are going to be needed to qualify somewhat comfortably. 

Yeah, this is a big one.

Who should start

First, a formation change is needed, because it obviously isn’t working. If I’m Berhalter, I go with a 5-3-2 that uses wingbacks but allows for more cover centrally. 

This is the lineup I would use and why:

  • One striker isn’t working, so let’s try two. Now, let’s not just throw Ricardo Pepi in there next to Sargent or Jordan Pefok just yet. I’d go with Christian Pulisic almost as a secondary striker and keep him high. If he gets his legs hacked, at least he’s closer to goal and could land some better set pieces for the team. But getting him into space with the ball higher up the field is needed.
  • The team is still missing that veteran creator, but I’d put Brenden Aaronson as the No. 10 since Reyna is out injured. Reyna would be there easily for me. So, you have Aaronson above two midfielders, with Adams working with Acosta to try and create. Acosta is formidable and showed his awareness to play Antonee Robison in on Aaronson’s goal against Canada. He can get the job done.
  • Lastly, the defense should have a base of three center backs because Honduras gets forward on the counter, and two didn’t cut it against Canada. Having a bit more cover there with three athletic guys in John Brooks, Miles Robinson and Mark McKenzie, while having some help with Tyler Adams sitting deep, could do the trick. Honduras will get their chances, and the U.S. has to be ready with quick, agile guys who can react, though Brooks will have to play better than he did against Canada.
  • There is no disputing who the No. 1 goalkeeper is for now. It’s Matt Turner’s job to lose.  

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