The USMNT will face Costa Rica on Wednesday night in Columbus (7:00pm EST, ESPN2, ESPN+, UniMas, TUDN) in what will be a critical test for Behhalter’s team in World Cup qualifying. ASN’s Brian Sciaretta looks ahead to the game where almost everything is on the line.
October 12, 2021
AFTER A VERY POOR result in Panama on Sunday night, the United States has found itself with only a thin line separating acceptable from unacceptable for this October window. A win Wednesday night against Costa Rica would bring the U.S. team to six points from three games and no worse than second place. A draw or a loss against the Ticos and the U.S. team could be in a perilous situation heading into November.
There were many lessons to be learned from Sunday’s loss including midfield spacing, the importance of playing out wide to get the ball forward, and the need to take advantage of set pieces. All of which the U.S. team struggled.
The biggest lesson, however, is the need to quickly move on – mentally. Head coach Gregg Berhalter and his team need to learn the lessons but also not dwell on the result. Things can change quickly and negative momentum can lead to the team playing worse than the sum of its parts for an extended period of time – a deadly combination.
A pro U.S. crowd should await the team in Columbus and the U.S. team has a long history in the city of Columbus but this will be the first time the team has played in Lower.com field – the new home of the Columbus Crew.
A big boost for the U.S. team would be to get an early goal. The team hasn’t scored in the first half in any of the past eight games. An early goal would help take the anxiety out of a must-win game.
The U.S. team’s approach
Tactically, the U.S. team will look to have a starting XI that allows for a direct approach to attack the goal. It is going to be tricky because Costa Rica is far more experienced than Jamaica and will likely be playing in a low-block. The U.S. team has struggled busting bunkers and certainly Costa Rica knows this.
In terms of objectives, the U.S. team is also certainly aware that while it must win this game to have a passable October window, Costa Rica does not. The Ticos have four points from two games this window and a draw in Columbus would be a massive success (which would total five points from three games – two of which were on the road).
After having rotated the squad heavily in Panama, the U.S. team will likely see Berhalter start most of his top-choices, depending on health.
Sergino Dest will certainly be back with the team and the Barcelona fullback was very good against Jamaica. His dribbling could be a useful weapon for Berhalter. The big question for Dest is which side he will feature. In an ideal world, he would likely set up on the right side where he is most comfortable.
That, however, will come down to whether Antonee Robinson is healthy enough to start on the left. Berhalter said on Tuesday that his situation is still being monitored. If Robinson can go, Dest starts on the right and Robinson is on the left. If Robinson cannot start, Dest probably starts on the left and DeAndre Yedlin gets the nod on the right.
Central defense, however, has the most question marks for the U.S. team. The four options are Walker Zimmerman, Mark McKenzie, Miles Robinson, and Chris Richards.
Zimmerman has started the first two games and has generally been among the team’s better performers. He gives the U.S. team a strong, physical presence in the backline who is effective winning aerials. The question will be if Zimmerman is fit enough having gone 180 minutes the past six days.
Berhalter will want to look at Chris Richards at some point. He could get his look if Zimmerman isn’t fit to go, or he could start with Zimmerman. The question, however, will be with Miles Robinson who is rested and has had a very strong 2021 with the U.S. team.
Tyler Adams will almost certainly start for the U.S. team in his No. 6 position. He remains one of the team’s most important players. He should give the team defensive shape up the middle of the field and his passing should allow the U.S. team to play further up the field.
Weston McKennie is a big question mark regarding his fitness. The Juventus midfield played a full 90 against Jamaica but felt tightness in his quad afterward. While an MRI was negative, Berhalter said that McKennie was still uncertain to start. Kellyn Acosta has been the backup for either McKennie or Adams and would likely be the same here.
Yunus Musah started the first two games and seems unlikely to start this one. In his place, the most likely replacement is Gianluca Busio – who would be fresh and who has also spent time with the team over the summer. Busio gives the team another option with set piece deliveries and can get the ball forward.
Ricardo Pepi getting the nod at the No. 9 position seems likely as he didn’t start in Panama. Brenden Aaronson seems most likely to get the nod on the wing – where he’s had success.
The opposite winger to Aaronson could go to Tim Weah, Matthew Hoppe, Paul Arriola, or Cristian Roldan. Arriola has started the last two games and seems unlikely to get the nod again. It is easy to see any of the remaining options getting the start.
Costa Rica’s approach
Costa Rica put everything it had into the first two games. They got the 0-0 draw away at Honduras and then rallied to a 2-1 win over El Salvador after trailing 1-0 at the half.
For the U.S. team, the big takeaway is that the Ticos started eight players in both games: Navas, Duarte, Matarrita, Calvo, Borges, Venegas, Tejeda, Campbell. These eight players have an age range of 29-34.
Head coach Luis Fernando Suárez has big decisions. Does he continue to roll with the same lineup or does he opt to go younger?
Kendall Waston will likely return to the starting lineup. Attacking midfielder Jimmy Marin, meanwhile, scored last month in a 1-1 draw against Jamaica and seems a likely bet as he only played the first half against Honduras last week. Nashville SC midfielder Randall Leal has been a mainstay for club and country. He has played just 15 minutes this window.
Should Suarez rotate heavily, how prepared will his team be.
Predicted USMNT lineup
One note about the predictions, I will guess McKennie and Robinson will be healthy to start this one.
Goalkeeper: Matt Turner
Left back: Antonee Robinson
Central defender: Walker Zimmerman
Central defender: Miles Robinson
Right back: Sergino Dest
Midfielder: Tyler Adams
Midfielder: Weston McKennie
Midfielder: Gianluca Busio
Winger: Brenden Aaronson
Winger: Tim Weah
Center Forward: Ricardo Pepi