The road to Russia continues for the United States with a cruclal World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, live on FS1). That will be followed by a quick turnaround to face Mexico on Sunday (7:30 p.m. ET, live on FS1).
Coach Bruce Arena has a lot of choices to make, and here are the big questions facing the USMNT:
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Will Arena hold anyone back for the quick turnaround to Mexico?
While Trinidad & Tobago are far from a squad the USMNT should expect to roll over, Arena will need to be mindful that a mere three days later, the USMNT needs to go to Mexico and face a very tough El Tri team.
On paper, Arena's best option may simply be to try to get three points at home vs. T&T and then see what he can scrape together for Mexico. But if the Americans can get off to a comfortable early lead vs. T&T, perhaps Arena will look at making subs to have important pieces rested for Mexico, where even just a draw would be a massive result. Otherwise, if Arena is feeling confident, he could build out his rosters for both matches ahead of time and hold a couple players back vs. T&T.
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Will Arena tinker with the central midfield setup?
The USMNT came out in a 4-1-3-2 against Venezuela over the weekend and looked rather sluggish. But that was the same setup they used to rout Honduras in March. Although the performances were wildly different, one concern was the amount of space between Michael Bradley and the rest of the midfield – Bradley is the "1" in the 4-1-3-2 and he played from a very deep position. Honduras had a lot of space in front of them, but Bradley and the back line did an exceptional job of holding down the final third anyway. Will Arena count on that, or try to close that space down? Against Venezuela, Bradley sitting so deep exacerbated how slow the USMNT was in transition.
Arena could move to a more traditional 4-4-2, which is what the USMNT played in Panama when they grinded out a draw in March. It didn't look great then, but part of the blame there can be put on the poor performance Jermaine Jones had, and he's injured now. Arena gave a look to Kellyn Acosta in Saturday's friendly, and though it would be asking a lot for Acosta to make his first USMNT start in a World Cup qualifier, he's playing well enough to at least warrant the thought of partnering with Bradley.
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Can Pulisic lead the way again?
The advantage of the 4-1-3-2, which can't be overlooked, is that it allows Christian Pulisic to play as a true No. 10 and act as the driving force in the midfield. There's a real argument that the No. 10 is his best position and him playing there sets up the USMNT attack in the best possible way. Hosting Trinidad & Tobago at home, the Americans will surely want to get out on the front foot.
But it's worth remembering that these CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers are still new to Pulisic. As the No. 10, teams can zero in on Pulisic and make him miserable for 90 minutes. We saw that happen when Pulisic played as the No. 10 under Jurgen Klinsmann in two losses vs. Mexico and Costa Rica – he looked very frustrated, despite holding his own. He did much better when he resumed that role under Arena vs. Honduras, but if T&T can limit Pulisic, it could really hurt the USMNT's attack.
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Who else will be in the midfield?
Assuming Christian Pulisic remains as a No. 10 in the middle of the field, that means someone will take over his usual role to his right. Fabian Johnson played there on Saturday and did not look comfortable – he gave the ball away a lot and struggled to make an impact.
Johnson plays on the left more often than not, so he could switch across the field, but that would bump Darlington Nagbe out of the way. Nagbe put in a good shift for the Americans vs. Venezuela, and he is an asset in transition – he can play on the right, but the USMNT may want to put a player there who can be more of a shuttler, balancing between attacking and defending. Alejandro Bedoya may be a good option if that's Arena's thinking.
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Who will be at center back?
John Brooks took a knock in the USMNT's friendly vs. Venezuela on Saturday, but it appears he is back to full training. Geoff Cameron, meanwhile, played under Arena at center back for the first time vs. Venezuela, but Arena seemed to offer praise for his other options. After Saturday's match, Arena said: "First time I've seen Cameron at center back. I thought Brooks had a good night. I thought Matt Hedges played well and Omar (Gonzalez)."
The USMNT's go-to center back pairing at the end of Jurgen Klinsmann's tenure was Brooks and Cameron, and indeed they've been strong there, aside from some a couple matches where Brooks uncharacteristically struggled. Starting the pair again would be a relatively low-risk move for Arena. But with a match at Azteca coming up after Trinidad & Tobago, Arena may look at Gonzalez, who plays for Pachuca at an elevation even higher than Mexico City and is used to the atmosphere the Mexican fans will bring.