The United States are in Mexico City, primed for a trip the famed Estadio Azteca. They’ve never won a World Cup qualifier at the imposing venue, but Bruce Arena has the U.S. starting to rack up results. Can they be the first U.S. team to win a competitive match at the Azteca?
Making matters tougher on the U.S. is the quick turnaround from Thursday’s World Cup qualifier against Trinidad and Tobago. Usually they have one more day of rest, and Mexico prepared for this match by resting some stars in their Thursday qualifier, but Arena has turned the U.S. around in part because he uses the same players and builds familiarity.
Here’s the starting lineup Arena could opt for at the Azteca:
GK: Tim Howard
He’s the team’s No. 1 goalkeeper. Expect him in goal every World Cup qualifier this year.
RB: DeAndre Yedlin
Yedlin was terrific against Trinidad and Tobago. That he also happens to be in form and coming off a couple fine club seasons, first for Sunderland and then Newcastle, is just a bonus. He’s the team’s best right back and playing well.
CB: Geoff Cameron
The center back was steady at the back and his passing, especially on a couple chipped diagonals, really helped open up the U.S. attack against Trinidad and Tobago. Omar Gonzalez is another option here, especially if Bruce Arena wants to add another midfielder and opts to put Cameron there.
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CB: John Brooks
The Brooks enigma is very real. He’s unquestionably the Americans’ most talented defender, and he’s shown that he can be an outright dominant player (think Copa America last year), but he’s still yet to show that he can be consistent. He had a couple breakdowns against T&T, so Bruce Arena may opt for a change, but the Americans need to be at their best to win at the Azteca, and that means hoping Brooks is on his game.
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LB: Jorge Villafana
Is he spectacular? No. But he’s steady, and coming off a very nice performance. The U.S. will need him to be an outlet going forward, but also reliable defensively and, so far, he’s shown himself capable of going both ways at the international level. That he plays in Liga MX and is familiar with some of Mexico’s players is just a bonus.
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CM: Michael Bradley
He’s the captain and team leader. He’s disciplined and smart. He’s capable of springing the counterattack, which the U.S. will probably lean upon for their attack. Even if Bradley isn’t playing at the level he once did, he’s still the team’s leader and they’ll lean upon that in a hostile environment.
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CM: Kellyn Acosta
This is the big question for Bruce Arena: Does he continue using Michael Bradley as, ostensibly, the team’s only central midfielder, or will he add someone to give the team a little more presence in the middle of the pitch?
Against Mexico, a good team that can overwhelm teams in the midfield, the U.S. will need to add someone. Geoff Cameron could come up from the back line, and he’d definitely provide defensive solidarity, but Acosta is in better form than any other American midfielder, he’s defensively responsible and he can be the link between Bradley and the U.S. front line. Acosta may be young and have never started a World Cup qualifier, but he’s the perfect fit. Roll the dice with talent, form and fit.
This has been Fabian Johnson’s spot, but it’s been a while since he was at his best for the U.S. and Bruce Arena has talked about rotating his squad because of the short turnaround from Thursday’s match. With Johnson just coming off an injury, asking him to play without much time off seems like a stretch. Alejandro Bedoya is experienced in matches like this and he’s a solid defensive player, which the Americans will need at the Azteca.
AM: Christian Pulisic
He’s the Americans’ best player, he’s in great form and he’s shown that he can be the focal point of the U.S. attack. We’ll see how he handles his first trip to the Azteca, but he’s handled everything else in his young career — from the Champions League to major international tournaments — just fine.
RM: Darlington Nagbe
Nagbe had his best ever game for the U.S. on Thursday. He was absolutely scintillating with the ball, and his relationship with DeAndre Yedlin was truly impressive.
ST: Jozy Altidore
Altidore didn’t have his best game against Trinidad and Tobago, but his pass to set up Christian Pulisic’s second goal was superb and it was yet another example of his growing all-around game. Bobby Wood will be a dynamic option off the bench, and Clint Dempsey is still the team’s best finisher, but Altidore is the Americans’ best striker.
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