USMNT - Panama preview: How will Berhalter adjust to a CONCACAF game?
November 15, 2020
THE USMNT will take on Panama on Monday afternoon in Austria and it will be interesting test as Panama is expected to bunker and it will give many players either a first test or a friendly reminder about playing in CONCACAF.
We know that this game will be a little different from the approach that resulted in a 0-0 draw with Wales. In the postgame media availability with Gregg Berhalter as well as the pregame conference on Sunday, the were several key takeaways that give you a good indication as to the approach on Monday.
The U.S. team will play with a traditional forward setup with a true No. 9
- Reggie Cannon will start
- Sergino Dest can play on the left, but likes to cut in. Berhalter said if Dest plays left back, he would benefit with a true left-footed winger
- Panama will play a low-block
- Berhalter did not sound happy with the wing play against Wales
- The starting lineup would change, but not too significantly
This game is going to be a nice test for World Cup qualifying for both teams. Panama is going to want to measure up against the new generation of the U.S. team while the U.S. team will play a different type of game than most of the players find at their respective clubs.
What kind of approach could we see from Berhalter in this one? Here are some things I am looking for.
The No. 9
Unlike the “false 9” approach used with Sebastian Lletget, Berhalter said to expect a real No. 9 in this one. There are three options:
- a) Nicholas Gioacchini
- b) Sebastian Soto
- c) Tim Weah
All three are in their first U.S camp under Berhalter with Gioacchini never having played with the U.S. before this camp and Soto only at the youth levels. Weah is certainly an option although it might be possible that Weah plays on the wings.
When describing Soto and Gioacchini to the media, Berhalter praised Soto’s technical ability while then also saying Gioacchini is powerful – which might be useful in a CONCACAF game.
Gioacchini has a bit of an edge here in that he plays more regularly at a higher level than Soto. Berhalter however, hinted that both would play.
Wingers & Fullbacks are key
If Reggie Cannon is going to start, it seems most likely that that Serginio Dest would get the start at left back. But if the right-footed Dest is on the left side, who would be the winger in front of him? Most of the wingers in this pool are right footed – Konrad de la Fuente, Uly Llanez, Tim Weah, and even more central players like Yunus Musah and Gio Reyna.
In this case, it would not be surprising to see Antonee Robinson, normally a left back, perhaps play as a winger as he is one of the few left-footed players on the team comfortable from a wide position.
Also in this game, Cannon will likely play as the right back. Who will play as the right wing? As mentioned, there are several options. If Berhalter wants a different approach from Wales, Llanez might be a better bet to play in front Cannon. That would move Reyna into the middle. If not, Reyna could remain on the right.
There was a lot to like about the Adams, McKennie, Musah midfield from the previous game. That was the strongest area of the field for the United States against Wales. Berhalter will have questions about Musah’s role in this one. The highly rated Valencia midfielder is, of course, uncommitted to the United States long-term as England would like to keep him in their system.
As Berhalter said, the is pressure right now. After this game, there are not many times this group of European-based players will be together before World Cup qualifying. So how much do you use a game like this against Panama (with a World Cup qualifying feel to it) to court a player like Musah by giving him minutes or use it to prepare with players you know will be involved?
Either way, an Adams-McKennie-Reyna central midfield is certainly very exciting as well.
But there should be plenty of changes in this one. Players like Cardoso, Ledezma, Lletget, and Otasowie all seem likely to play as well.
A different XI
Expect Berhalter to keep a solid nucleus together with Zack Steffen, John Brooks, Matt Miazga, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams, Sergino Dest, and Giovanni Reyna all remaining in the starting lineup. Then we know Cannon will start. That would be eight players out of 11.
If guessing, I would say either Weah or Gioacchini start up top in the No. 9 with Weah probably being the slight favorite. Then I predict Reyna moves into the middle with Llanez and Robinson at left wing being the surprise pick.