National Team Preview: USA verus El Salvador

November saw the first US Men’s National Team matches in almost nine months as a European-based squad played Wales and Panama. Tonight, we get our first look at an MLS based squad in almost a year. It will also be the first chance for Nashville SC fans to see one of the Boys in Gold suit up in the Stars and Stripes. What can we expect from Gregg Berhalter’s side? Who are the players that are on the cusp of making the full team?


The November set of friendlies were a chance for head coach Gregg Berhalter evaluate the European player pool. While they got a good result against Panama, the focus was more on on-field chemistry and learning the system. Likewise, tonight will give Berhalter and fans the chance to see an MLS-based player pool. The roster is primarily new faces with a few veterans sprinkled in.

There are a few notable exclusions missing. Gyasi Zardes and Jordan Morris would be locks for this roster but are about to face off in MLS Cup on Saturday. Cincinnati’s Frankie Amaya was called in but had to withdraw due to a positive COVID-19 test, while Orlando’s Darryl Dike will miss out with an injury picked up in training earlier this week.

Now that the World Cup qualifying schedule has been solidified, Berhalter has limited time to evaluate his options before the competitive matches resume in the summer. With Nations League, Gold Cup and potentially Olympics on the horizon, a deep pool of players will be vital.

Berhalter preferrs to play in a 4-3-3 formation that looks to press in certain situations and uses his fullbacks in the attack. Since he is looking for players to fit in with the full first team, I expect him to stick with that tonight. The predicted lineup above may not be the exact team to start, but with unlimited substitutions at his disposal, most players should get time on the field.


Defense

John Brooks is the clear number one center-back in the pool but the spot alongside him is wide open. For Nashville SC fans, the main focus will be on MLS Defender of the Year Walker Zimmerman and if he can claim that spot as his own. Mark McKenzie and Aaron Long are the two options to partner Zimmerman. Long and Zimmerman have played well together and, at times, looked to be the most assured central pairing.

At 21, McKenzie is the best young American center-back and on the verge of a move to Europe. Berhalter will almost certainly give him the opportunity to claim a spot within the squad.


Midfield

The defensive midfield position is critical to Berhalter’s system; the number six needs to be able to break up play as well as recycle possession. Jackson Yueill and Kellyn Acosta are the two that fit the description and could potentially split time.

If you were to ask me who I was most excited to see tonight, Brenden Aaronson would be my answer. The young Union academy player will be joining Red Bull Salzburg permanently in January after a stellar season. He has an ability to play between the lines and will be the creative focal point.


Attack

The striker position is one of the biggest gaps in the player pool. Josh Sargent has struggled to score at Werder Bremen and Jozy Altidore cannot stay fit. Darryl Dike has been tipped by many to get an opportunity but he picked up an injury earlier in camp and will miss out tonight.

Ayo Akinola had a fantastic season with Toronto FC and should get the opportunity to start up front. Stylistically, he is nothing like Dike but his speed through the middle is something few in the pool have.

On the wings, Chris Mueller and Paul Arriola will be the two standout options, but we could see Lletget and/or Aaronson give time out wide. Other than Jordan Morris, there probably is not an MLS player that would start out wide with the entire pool to select from. With three matches per international window for the foreseeable future, though, depth is of the utmost importance. Tonight’s match could go a long way towards establishing that depth.


Match Info

Teams: United States v El Salvador
Date: Wednesday, 12/9/20
Time: 6:30 PM Central, MAPFRE Stadium, Columbus, Ohio
TV: ESPNNEWS, UniMás and TUDN
Forecast: 66°/48°. Clear. 0% chance of rain. 37% humidity.

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