Nations League: Predicting the United States Starting XI against Mexico

United States national team head coach Gregg Berhalter. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
United States national team head coach Gregg Berhalter. Mandatory Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

Ahead of World Cup qualifying in the fall, the United States national team faces a big test on Sunday night in the final of the Nations League. The opponent, Mexico, will be a substantially deeper and more talented than the Honduras side the Americans beat 1-0 in the semifinal.

For the United States national team, this Nations League meeting means little in light of World Cup qualifying and the overarching need to book a ticket for next winter’s tournament. But a lot can and will be told about this team from Sunday night’s performance.

The United States lost the Gold Cup final two years ago to Mexico, a match where the Americans looked strong for the opening 20 minutes and then wilted as the match wore on. From a morale perspective, a victory over El Tri would be huge for the entire program’s psyche.

This is also a big opportunity for head coach Gregg Berhalter to piece together how his ideal Starting XI will look for the upcoming qualifiers. If he can settle on some key questions (the central defense pairing, who starts at outside backs and the forward situation) then the performance in the Nations League final doesn’t matter much.

With that in mind, however, a look at how the United could (and should) line-up in the Nations League final against Mexico:

GK: Zack Steffen – It is a given that if healthy and fit, Steffen gets the nod here. He wasn’t called on a lot in the semifinal win but he was steady and reliable. A clear plus is that his distribution has clearly improved in his two years overseas.

LB: Antonee Robinson – In the semifinal, Robinson was adequate and while his form with the national team has never been as good as with his club, the 23-year old is a natural left footer and defends (and moves forward) well.

CB: John Brooks – His past two matches (Switzerland, Honduras) have been the best from Brooks since World Cup 2014. While he has often struggled with CONCACAF opponents in the past, he is simply too reliable to not write in ink here.

CB: Mark McKenzie – With Aaron Long out, McKenzie is the most natural pairing with Brooks. While very similar in terms of attributes, he’s good in the air and solid positionally. No one else on the roster is a good fit here.

RB: Sergiño Dest – This is a big match for the Barcelona defender as Dest must be solid defensively and aware tactically. Mexico thrives in their off the ball movement in transition. If Dest, who loves to move forward and overlap, gets caught too far up the pitch El Tri will make them pay.

CM: Weston McKennie – Like Steffen and Brooks, the Juventus midfielder is a lock in the Starting XI. He must offer more moving forward in a match like this where the United States will be under constant pressure and pressing. Was quietly effective in the Nations League semifinal.

CM: Tyler Adams – This all assumes that Adams, battling a back injury, is fit. If he is, then his work rate will be huge for the Americans in trailing Mexico’s deep runners.

CM: Yanus Musah – After not featuring for the United States on Thursday, now is the time for the Valencia midfielder to get the nod. His vision and ability on the ball can help, as will his ability to drift outside into space.

LM: Christian Pulisic – It is important to get Pulisic out wide and into 1 v. 1 situations in this match. When asked to play too central, Pulisic tends to run into other players. His speed and technical ability in isolation is key.

RM: Gio Reyna – Like Pulisic, it is important to get Reyna wide and allow him to cut in at times centrally. Looked sharp in the semifinal and nearly scored in the first half.

F: Theoson-Jordan Siebatcheu – Fresh off the late game winner in the Nations League semifinal, Siebatcheu’s hold-up play will be big here as will his movement in the final-third. A good 60 minutes then bring on Josh Sargent to see out the match where his energy pressing will be key, no matter the score line.