The United States men’s national team will play its biggest match in nearly two years on Sunday when they face off against Mexico in the Concacaf Nations League final in Denver. Kickoff is set for 9:30 p.m. ET from Empower Field, the home of the Denver Broncos, and you can watch the match on CBS Sports Network and Paramount+.
With a trophy on the line and coming off of consecutive underwhelming performances, first the friendly loss to Switzerland and then the narrow win over Honduras, CBS Sports understands that Gregg Berhalter has made a formation change for the final to better match up against El Tri.
As sources told CBS Sports, Berhalter has shiftied to a 3-5-2 formation for the game. Here is the USMNT lineup for the match.
Starting XI vs. Mexico: 1-Zack Steffen, 2-Sergiño Dest, 6-John Brooks, 7-Gio Reyna, 8-Weston McKennie, 9-Josh Sargent, 10-Christian Pulisic (capt.), 13-Tim Ream 15-Mark McKenzie, 22-DeAndre Yedlin, 23-Kellyn Acosta
Here are three reasons why that decision could make sense, and here’s what Mexico is planning. And one thing that Mexico might try in response.
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1. No natural replacement for Tyler Adams
Despite Jackson Yueill looking OK in place of Tyler Adams, Kellyn Acosta moves into that position against Mexico as part of a three-player midfield with Weston McKennie and another darn good player (more below), as Adams looks set to start on the bench.
Though it is unclear what McKennie’s role would be, him sitting a tad deeper than his usual box to box role and partnering Acosta would make plenty of sense as Berhalter looks for some extra physicality and energy defensively in the middle. though early indications are he’ll still have his freedom to roam should the situation call for it.
A lot of it would depend on how exactly Mexico approach the match, and if Tata Martino has anything up his sleeve. Against Costa Rica in the semifinals, in what was a poor display for Mexico, El Tri went with a heavy attacking 3-4-3. Sources connected with the Mexico national team expect them shift to a 4-3-3 for the final though.
Though CBS Sports understands that players within the Mexican national team were disappointed with the showing against Costa Rica and want some sort of change against the Americans when it comes to formation or personnel.
2. More time on the ball for Christian Pulisic; Gio Reyna up top?
That other player sliding into the midfield is likely to be Christian Pulisic. We saw Pulisic move centrally to pick up the ball against Honduras, especially in the second half, and aim to turn into a distributor or creator as the match was hanging in the balance. By him moving into the middle a bit more, we could see him closely connect with McKennie and have two players up top to work with. That leaves Josh Sargent and Gio Reyna up top, and not semifinal hero Jordan Siebatcheu, though Reyna is likely to occupy a role that is functionally similar to Pulisic.
Sargent has long been held in high regards due to his commitment and effort, despite the goals not coming as of late. But he did save a Honduras goal by clearing the ball off the line with his head in the semifinal.
As for Reyna, he was probably the sharpest player in the attacking third in the semifinals, with his technical ability seeing him beat defenders to get into space. Reyna’s underappreciated pace could give the U.S. a different, interesting look up top if he’s playing more centrally and looking to get in behind.
3. More help for the center back duo
Berhalter going with the 3-5-2 means Tim Ream joins the duo of John Brooks and Mark McKenzie, with Sergino Dest at left back and either DeAndre Yedlin at right back. The formation would obviously allow some flexibility to defend with five against a Mexican side that loves to stretch the field wide.
While those fullbacks certainly like to get forward, how much rope they have will ultimately be determined early on when we see how Mexico shape up. It will be more likely that we see Dest go forward while the right back stays more reserve keeping a lopsided four at the back to combat El Tri’s speed on the counter.
4. A change for El Tri?
A source closely connected to the Mexico national team tells CBS Sports that Martino is moving away from the 3-4-3 formation from the semifinals and going to a 4-3-3 against the U.S. I’m told that there are two main reasons — the first being to have some extra cover defensively as Mexico is wary about the threat the Americans pose on the wings. On Saturday, Martino pointed out Pulisic and Sergino Dest specifically.
The second part is because of the team’s comfort in using wingers in attack and seeing the possibility of getting forward in numbers if the U.S. get forward with their fullbacks. How exactly that attack will set up remains to be seen as Mexico’s lineup suggests perhaps Hirving Lozano could operate centrally as a false nine.