There were few positives to take away from the U.S. national team’s bludgeoning by Mexico, and pretty much all of those have since hopped on a plane and returned to their club teams. But, even so, a younger version of the U.S. has a chance to earn a bit of experience against Uruguay and, if things go well, perhaps earn back a little bit of goodwill in the process.
Losing 3-0 to Mexico is never acceptable, and the questions that have come in that game’s wake have been plentiful. Those questions won’t be answered on Tuesday, and they probably won’t truly reach a conclusion for some time. However, Tuesday presents a chance for Gregg Berhalter and his team to face off with one of the world’s elite.
Ahead of Tuesday’s clash, Goal has three projections for how the USMNT may look from the opening whistle against Uruguay. Click back an hour before the game to see what the managers have decided to put on the field.
Most Likely XI
Christian Pulisic, John Brooks, Weston McKennie, Zack Steffen, Alfredo Morales and Sean Johnson have left camp, which means that Gregg Berhalter will need to name four new starters to his XI against Uruguay. We know one of those starters will be Jackson Yueill, who would jump into the No. 6 role.
Sebastian Lletget and Cristian Roldan would be the safe bets to join him in the midfield with Paxton Pomykal then joining the fray later. Pomykal has done well enough in MLS play, but it seems as if this camp has been more of an introductory one for the FC Dallas star rather than one where he would be expected to contribute.
Up top, it makes sense to give Josh Sargent the start in his hometown while offering him a chance to rebound from his missed spot kick the other night. Without Christian Pulisic, a starting spot opens for Jordan Morris on the wing while Tyler Boyd should get another chance to prove himself having been underwhelming last time out.
In goal, Berhalter has one of two options with just Guzan and Jesse Gonzalez in the squad, so look for the Atlanta United veteran to step in as starter. The tandem that could start in front of him, Aaron Long and Walker Zimmerman, wasn't exactly good against El Tri, and the duo will need to show much more against Uruguay to push on as the team's most consistent starting pairing at the moment.
The Why Not XI?
Realistically, the USMNT is in a state of rebuilding. This isn't a controversial take or one that many would argue. It's quite obvious that rebuilds like this take time, and throwing everything at the wall and hoping something sticks can, at times, do more harm than good. Faster isn't always better but, at this point in time, can it be much worse?
A number of the USMNT's top stars aren't involved, leaving a relatively young squad to face Uruguay, even by the USMNT's recent standards. Why not give that squad a chance to play around a bit no matter the consequences?
We've seen plenty of Brad Guzan, so why not give Gonzalez a run? Miles Robinson's MLS efforts have earned him a chance, and the same can be said of Reggie Cannon. Sergino Dest looked solid enough before being cooked by Tecatito Corona, and the Ajax defender should get a chance to redeem himself.
The midfield would look relatively similar to the Most Likely XI, with Pomykal instead getting a start. He may not be ready for this sort of level, but you don't know until you try. The same can be said of Corey Baird, who could earn his fourth USMNT cap as part of a younger strikeforce headlined by Sargent up top.
The Safest Bet
The only thing worse than getting smashed by Mexico would be getting smashed again just days later. The USMNT doesn't have to beat Uruguay to consider the friendly a success, but they better not get completely exposed once again. If that happens, the criticism will only get louder and louder.
So one wouldn't blame Berhalter for playing it safe, even if doing so would also earn a bit of frustration from the fanbase. It could be a case of surviving this window before looking ahead to better performances in the ones ahead, when opponents aren't so difficult and the squad is a bit more full with top-end talent.
With that in mind, Berhalter could very well choose to rely on veterans like Guzan, Daniel Lovitz, Wil Trapp and Gyasi Zardes. The latter three have all had their critics during Berhalter's tenure and the trio are probably not the players to change a game against a legitimate power in Uruguay, but they also probably won't be completely destroyed or overwhelmed by the occasion.
It wouldn't be sexy and there are many that wouldn't appreciate this line of thought. However, sometimes it's a matter of taking a step back to prepare for two steps forward, and that may be the logic on Tuesday.